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VIDEO: Nigel Owens on referee 'safety nets' and knee-jerk law changes

Nigel Owens, widely considered to be one of the greatest referees of all time, believes the over-reliance on technology and knee-jerk law changes could ruin the game.

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Owens, ahead of the resumption of the United Rugby Championship with Round 12 fixtures, suggested there needs to be a ‘rethink’ on the direction the game is going with current adjustments to the laws and their application.

The much-debated 20-minute red card law – which looks set to go on trial in the Rugby Championship later this year – is the latest in a list of issues that are causing heated debates.

The South African Rugby Union CEO Rian Oberholzer last week confirmed that they supported the recommendation.

“World Rugby decided competitions can experiment with it,” Oberholzer said, adding that SANZAAR is looking to introduce in the Rugby Championship that gets underway on August 10.

The recommendation was made by World Rugby at their recent ‘Shape of the Game’ forum in London.

It is set to be voted on at a World Rugby Council meeting in May.

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Owens believes the introduction of the 20-minute red card is further complicated a game already overburdened by technology.

“What is important in rugby and refereeing – or any walks of life – is that you don’t go halfway to fix something or get an answer [to a question,” he told @rugby365com.

Expressing his personal view, Owens – with the experience of more than 100 Test matches and more than 250 first-class matches – said the game needs to sit down and ‘relook’ at what exactly is a red card.

“If something is completely accidental, even careless but it wasn’t an act of thuggery – you weren’t charging in with a head or shoulder not caring where you hit somebody – then we need to ask: ‘Why are we giving a red card for something unlucky?’

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“We need to define what is a clear red card.

“If you fly into a ruck with your shoulder and arm tucked behind you, an act of recklessness and dangerous, you should be sent off, but should not be replaced after 20 minutes.

“At the moment we are stuck between a rock and a hard place.

“We don’t want to spoil the game, sent off [a player who is] unlucky and they are down to 14 men for 60 minutes.

“If someone is very unlucky, why is it even a red card?

“We need to look at what constitutes a red card.

“Also, player safety is a hugely important part of the game.

“We have to change player behaviour and get rid of that recklessness.

“Are we actually changing player behaviour?”

Owen said he is a little sceptical that they are achieving the desired results.

He said he understands the need for the 20 minutes, if a player is involved in an unfortunate collision.

However, what needs to be addressed is what constitutes a red card.

“Should it be a different sanction?” he asked.

“I am a little worried that if you are going to be down to 14 men for just 20 minutes, are we taking away we are strong on – which is changing player behaviour?”

He used the tip-tackle as an example of strong sanctions and red cards reducing the number of tip-tackle (or spear tackles) from the game over time.

“Referee were very strong and sent players off,” he told @rugby365com.

“We rarely see a tip tackle these days.

“Very rarely do we see the recklessness of taking a player out in the air.

“We do still see them sometimes, but not as often as before.

“Referees went strong, there was a ban for it and it changed player behaviour.”

He said there is still a problem with changing player behaviour in terms of recklessness at the clear-outs of rucks and head-to-head tackles.

Owens said he is not ’emotionally attached’ for or against the 20-minute red card, but feels there is a knee-jerk reaction to keeping people happy when players are sent off.

“There needs to be a little bit more time spent on this to see the whole picture and ensure we get it right.”

(WATCH as refereeing legend Nigel Owens explains to @king365ed how technology and knee-jerk law changes could ruin the game….)

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Owens also admitted the game has changed and while the role of ‘technology’ is vital, there appears to be an over-reliance on TMOs.

“At the top end of the professional game, without technology, some decisions are humanly impossible to see,” he said.

However, he felt the introduction of technology has resulted in ‘more discussions’ around contentious decisions by match officials, when it should reduce the number of debates in post-match analyses.

“Rugby is a game of a lot of grey,” Owens said, adding: “The game is not black-and-white – just like life is.

“Once you bring it into technology, it becomes very technical – to the letter of the law.

“The feel of the referee, his interpretation of it [the incident], then his hands get tied a bit.

“We are talking about more controversies now, with technology, than before we had it [introduced technology].”

The 52-year-old Welshman said he still feels technology is beneficial for the game, especially the key decisions match officials don’t pick up.

“However, I also think that if you use it too much, it does take away from the game.

“Subconsciously it also takes away from the referee.”

He said he always based his refereeing on the principle that he won’t get everything right, but he always did his damnedest best to get as many decisions correct.

“What was humanly impossible for me or my assistants to see, that is when we wanted the TMO to come in and sweep up behind us.

“However, going out there knowing it is there as a backup, that is when you make mistakes.”

He used a tightrope walker as a case in point.

Without a safety net that funambulist will take extra care to get it right. With a safety net, he will be less meticulous.

“Mistakes will happen, [without the safety net], but they will be far and few between,” Owen said.

“That is what I think technology has done,” he said, hinting the match officials are not as focused as they should be.

“It [technology] is needed in the game, because that is what we want to get the big decisions right.

“I do think it needs to be reduced and not used in the way it is at the moment – pretty much for nearly everything.

“It must go back to match referees, who are more than capable of making the decisions themselves.”

@king365ed
@rugby365com

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