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Nigel Owens gives his verdict on Etzebeth's try-saving intervention

SPOTLIGHT: Former Test referee Nigel Owens reviewed some of the action from last weekend’s World Cup quarterfinals.


Probably one of the biggest talking points was Eben Etzebeth’s try-saving intervention in South Africa’s 29-28 win over hosts France in Saint-Denis.

Early in the game and with the French already leading 7-0, the hosts were on attack and they seemed to be on their way to scoring another try before Etzebeth leapt forward and stretched out his hand to knock the ball down in an attempted intercept.

The match officials ruled that the ball went backwards, which meant that the Bok star was saved from being penalised for a deliberate knock-on.

The French were not happy with the decision and Owens shared his opinion on the whole incident.

“He [Etzebeth] is very, very lucky,” said Owens.

“He goes with one hand out. There is no way he’s going to catch this ball so what he tries to do, he tries to knock that ball backwards, which is legal. As long as you knock the ball backwards.


“If he’d made contact with that ball and that ball had gone forward, then it would have been a deliberate knock-on and a pretty certain yellow card as well here.

“Now, when you look at this footage, there’s a lot of debate about this. Some of you are saying: ‘Well, I think it’s gone forward’. Others are saying: ‘No, I think it’s gone backwards’.

“It really is a very, very difficult one. It’s impossible to see 100 percent, to put your house on it, to say if has gone forward or has it gone back.

“The referee looks at this and I have to say, I tend to agree with the referee here because it’s very difficult to say that it has gone forward or gone back, so the referee’s view and the TMO’s view is that the ball went backwards or certainly didn’t go clearly forward and therefore we have a play on.


“But remember, he’s very, very lucky. If that goes forward, it’s a pretty certain penalty and yellow card.”

Owens also shares his view on the debate on hands on the ground at the breakdown and he uses footage of Kwagga Smith’s crucial breakdown turnover late in the game.

“Some of you have been debating. ‘What about the penalties, hands on ground, legal or not?’ Okay. Nothing in the law says that you can’t put your hands on the ground. So, we can’t say that any player that puts his hand on the ground is committing an offence, because it doesn’t say that in the law. So, the way that the referees will deal with this, is the law of the contact tackle area.

“So, if you come in to jackal the ball, what the jackler must do? He must release the ball carrier before he regathers on the ball, or if he’s not in contact with the ball carrier, when he comes in, he must maintain his own body weight.

“So, what he can’t do, is put his hands away or beyond the ball to support his body weight and then come on to the ball to gather. Now if he comes in and tries to go for the ball but in doing so because of the speed, his hands touches the ground around the ball, but that is not keeping his weight up – which means he’s supporting his own body weight – then we won’t necessarily penalise the hand touching the ground. We’d only penalise it if the hands are too far or he’s using the ground to support his body weight.

“So that’s what the referee decides. The referee needs to decide, was that hand supporting the bodyweight before he goes onto the ball and if so, it will be a penalty. If he feels well, he just touched the ground around the ball, it’s not supporting his body weight, then we’d have a play on.”


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