Nigel Owens sends message to players after red cards
SPOTLIGHT: Players must change their behaviour so that the red cards in this year’s Six Nations for making contact with an opponent’s head are not repeated former Test referee Nigel Owens told AFP.
The 49-year-old Welshman, who retired last year from international rugby after his 100th Test, said Ireland duo Peter O’Mahony and Bundee Aki as well as Scotland’s Zander Fagerson merited red cards.
The tournament reaches its climax on Friday when title hopefuls France – who had Paul Willemse sent off last Saturday for making contact with Wales prop Wyn Jones’s eye – host the Dark Blues.
“There should be no debate about the red cards they were all correct,” he told AFP by phone from Wales.
“The players need to change their behaviour in the clearout, people need to stop blaming the system and the referees.
“Player safety is paramount with things the way they are at the moment with HIA [Head Injury Assessment], and concussion.
“You have to accept that if you go in recklessly, dangerously illegally by leading with the shoulder or the forearm and hit a player’s head you are in trouble.”
Owens, who aside from some punditry devotes his time to farming his 40 Hereford cattle, said the red cards are not because referees have become stricter.
Prior to O’Mahony’s dismissal, an Ireland player had not been sent off in the competition since Willie Duggan in 1977.
“These would have been red cards in previous years but the reason why you did not have sendings off is the clearout was different,” he said.
“These days there are too many bodies on the ground whereas before players would be on their feet so nobody came in with a shoulder or a forearm to clear out.
“Referees should get back to reffing the laws and keeping players on their feet.”
Owens said French referee Pascal Gauzere deserves praise for admitting to two glaring errors in the first-half of Wales’s 40-24 home win over England.
First he allowed Wales to take a penalty, from which they scored in the corner, while the England players were still in a huddle that he had ordered leaving visiting skipper Owen Farrell fuming.
He then allowed Liam Williams’ try to stand in spite of a blatant knock-on from wing Louis Rees-Zammit.
“I think credit to the referee for holding his hands up,” said Owens.
However, Owens, who rates refereeing the 2015 World Cup Final as the pinnacle of his career, said referees should not make a habit of owning up to their mistakes in public.
“It is a very difficult balance to strike otherwise referees will say after every game ‘I got decisions wrong’.
“A referee can never go through a game without making a mistake.
“So where do you draw the line? You say you got it wrong because it was a game as important as Wales v England compared to another game?
“Pascal was the only one to come out and admit it during the Six Nations but they were big decisions.”
Owens, who says he could have gone on for another two years refereeing Tests, observes such admissions post match make no difference to the players.
“You cannot defend the undefendable,” he said.
“Players will know when you have made mistakes.”
Farrell was so marked by the incident with Gauzere he opted not to exchange with the referee in England’s final two games.
Owens, who was renowned for enjoying exchanges with the players, said “each to their own” but added communicating with the referee can be beneficial.
“Sam Warburton for instance with the final decision in the third and final Test between the Lions and New Zealand tied at 15-15,” said Owens.
“Romain Poite awarded a penalty to the All Blacks but Warburton went to speak to him and eventually he changed his mind and they drew the match and the series.
“There are advantages in communicating with the referee and how you speak to him.”