Legendary former referee Nigel Owens has joined the chorus of voices advocating for a change in the law that has led to prolonged kick-tennis exchanges between teams in the Six Nations.
This loophole in the rulebook, commonly referred to as the “Dupont Law” after its notable exploitation by the French scrumhalf, has become a focal point for discussion.
This law allows players, positioned at least 10 meters away from the catcher, to remain stationary instead of retreating when the ball is kicked. As a consequence, matches, including both of Scotland’s Six Nations games, have witnessed prolonged pauses as teams engage in extended back-and-forth kicking duels.
Only when the catcher has advanced five meters are opposing players considered onside, perpetuating the cycle of long kicks between teams.
Writing in his column for WalesOnline, former international referee Owens suggested a solution to bring an end to the dreaded kick-tennis.
“There is a loophole in the law, which has been used fairly frequently in recent months,” the ex-Test referee wrote.
“If you are more than 10 metres away from where the ball lands, you don’t have to retreat – you can stand still, until you’re put onside. As long as they don’t move forward, they can just stay still.
“As that viral clip from the Bath v Gloucester game earlier this year showed, it can create a farcical situation that is not at all entertaining to watch.
Can we close the loophole? Potentially. A solution may be to say, whether you’re within 10 metres of where the ball lands or not, you still have to move back towards your own goal line until you’re put onside.
“This of course will be more work for the referee and his team, as they would now have to make sure that players retreat and not just advance.
“It wouldn’t be that hard to follow though, I think, and maybe that will allow the catching side more space to counter attack and lead to less kicking. I might be wrong, but I can’t really see any negative effect this could have anywhere else.
“Whatever the solution is, it’s clear that we need something to try and cut down the amount of kicking back and forth.
“We want to take pride in our game and the strange situations this loophole leads to can make it all look like we are watching tennis sometimes and not rugby!”
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Nigel Owens names his all-time rugby dream team
It’s actually interesting to note that the majority of the players that Owens picked are captains. The entire pack have captained their countries
NIGEL OWENS DREAM XV:
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.”
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.”