"Balance needed" - Nigel Owens delivers his verdict on the controversial 'bunker system' - Ruck

“Balance needed” – Nigel Owens delivers his verdict on the controversial ‘bunker system’

Nigel Owens, a former whistleblower, has shared his perspective on the contentious bunker system that was introduced during the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

“I think it has worked well on occasions. It has sped up the game so we’re not waiting on every decision for five minutes and piling endless pressure on the referee to make a judgement,” said the popular Welshman his column for Wales Online .

“Instead, the game can continue and it’s a better all-round experience for referees, players and fans watching along.

“However, there is one thing about the bunker that I’m a little bit concerned about, and it’s really come to light during incidents that have caused a lot of debate among pundits and fans, of which there have already been several at this tournament. One of the great things about the TMO in rugby in the past is that when a referee gives a decision, he explained to you why he was giving the red or yellow card or not, or why there was mitigation.

“Whether you agreed or had a different view, you could at least understand why the referee had reached the decision based on that explanation. For me, that’s what put the TMO ahead of VAR in football and things like that.

“People understanding the reasoning behind decisions is hugely important in rugby because it does come down to interpretation, particularly around 50/50 decisions. In football, the referee goes to the screen and comes back and changes the decision, but nobody knows the reason why because there’s no explanation that comes with it.

“Historically, the TMO has allowed us to hear the referee’s thought process but with the new bunker that has been lost. When so much comes down to interpretation, that could create more problems than it solves.

|Obviously, it is a real plus point to have the TMO working in the background to let the game carry on. But, as I’ve said, there is a downside to the bunker, if we don’t know the reason why. A balance needs to be struck.”

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Fullback: Israel Folau (Australia)

Owens said: “For me, it’s nip and tuck between Halfpenny and Folau, next to nothing to choose between them. Leigh is brilliant because under the high ball and with his kicking at goal under pressure. He may not always break the line when running but puts his body on the line in defence and is a top-notch match-winner.

“But I go for Folau – only just, I should stress – because of his ability to seemingly beat his man every time he gets the ball in his hand. He’s such an exciting player and like Leigh he is one of the best under the high ball.

“It’s a toss of a coin for me… and it’s come down in Folau’s favour.”

Winger: Stuart Hogg (Scotland)

Owens said: “How can you fail to be impressed when watching Hogg play. He’s so exciting as he burst into that line and, of course, was named Six Nations player of the tournament.

“I know he’s a full-back for Scotland, but he is so quick and direct he could easily play on the wing. He reminds me a bit of Shane Williams with some of the things he does.

“When you see who is on the other wing in my team, you’ll see how they would work brilliantly in tandem.”

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Outside-centre: Brian O’Driscoll (Ireland)

Owens said: “Not only is he one of the greatest centres in the history of rugby union but he’s a fantastic man off the field as well. O’Driscoll has been a wonderful ambassador for the sport and a real leader. He always respected referees and set the right example for others to follow.

“A legend of the game who conducted himself superbly, on and off the pitch.”

Inside-centre: Ma’a Nonu (New Zealand)

Owens said: “He’s another brilliant player and after every game, win or lose, he would come up and give me a hug. Ma’a has always found time at after-match functions or at breakfast if we’ve been staying at the same hotel to come over and have a chat.

“What a player, mind, too. One of the stalwarts of the New Zealand side for so many years.”

Winger: Shane Williams (Wales)

Owens said: “When people ask me who is the best player I have refereed it’s pretty much an impossible task to pick one because I’ve been lucky enough to take charge of so many greats.

“But if I’m pushed, I would pick Shane for what he achieved after coming from football at 17 or 18 years of age.

“He was in the mould of Gerald Davies in how he left defenders gasping for air as he beat them with those dazzling sidesteps. Nobody would fancy defending against a back three of Shane, Hogg and Folau, I can tell you that.”


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