Popular former referee Nigel Owens has called for a number of law changes following the opening weekend of the 2024 Six Nations.
Five second law:
He wrote: “The five-second law, where players must use the ball within five seconds after the referee says ‘use it’.
“That was brought in because players were slowing the game down by extending the ruck in order to get a box kick in further away, to avoid being charged down. It’s a good law on paper and one that definitely benefits the game, but the problem is that it’s not being refereed properly at the moment.
“Quite often I watch games where instead of being five seconds, it ends up being eight or nine seconds because referees are taking so long before they make that call.
“The referee should be calling this as soon as the ball is available to be used and not three or four seconds after. That is definitely an area that needs to be looked at in terms of how it’s refereed, and hopefully that will speed up games and mean we see fewer box kicks too.”
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Owens added: “The other area of the game that needs attention is how the offside law is refereed. It’s quite simple – if a player is in front of a team-mate who either has the ball or last played the ball, then that player is offside.
“But players shouldn’t be penalised unless it contributes to something, like tackling a player while offside or obstructing, picking up a ball or maybe closing down space.
“What referees and World Rugby have been strict on is, when you have an up and under, nobody in front of the ball carrier must advance until that player is put onside. Say I was standing in front of Ioan Lloyd when he kicks the ball – I can’t move until either he passes me or an onside team-mate passes me.”
Owens continued: “There is a loophole in the law, which has been used fairly frequently in recent months, including in Wales’ defeat to Scotland. 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.
“The problem is, we have all these players standing still, closing down space – legally, in this case – and forcing the opposition to kick it straight back again. 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.
It’s completely legal, but leads to a lot of aimless kicks, which was one of the big problems for Wales in that tough first half against Scotland. And of course, it looks absolutely bizarre.”
NIGEL OWENS SIX NATIONS DREAM XV:
Delving into his honourable mentions and other interviews, we’ve compiled Owens’ Six Nations dream team, necessitating six changes from his World XV.
Fullback: Israel Folau (Australia), replaced by Leigh Halfpenny (Wales)
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.”
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), replaced by Owen Farrell (England)
Owens praised Farrell as a player on numerous occasions.
On one occasion he wrote: “I can only speak from my own experience of refereeing him and, when I did, he was an excellent captain to deal with.
“I have a huge amount of respect for him as a player and a person. He always knew where the line was with me.
“I would say to him that he could always come and talk to me as long as it was at the right time and in the right tone and he always did that.”
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.”