Select Edition

Northern Northern
Southern Southern
Global Global

'Beyond a joke' issue tackled in Nigel Owens' clean-up rugby plan

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Retired referee Nigel Owens has outlined the changes he believes needs to happen before the next Rugby World Cup in Australia in 2027. The Test centurion official was in France during the recent finals and he made no secret at the time of his annoyance with the increased influence that the TMO was now wielding on matches.


The Welshman has now returned to the hot topic in his latest column, highlighting the changes he wants to see implemented in other aspects of the game, while he also wants officials to start refereeing some neglected areas, including the scrum feed which he reckoned was now “beyond a joke”.

Owens wants the powers that be to take a look at the tackle height and to get rid of the goal line drop out. He also wants the existing laws governing the game to be implemented more, such as punishing crooked feeds into the scrum, punishing deliberately collapsed rucks, and addressing what he feels are endlessly boring box kicks from the back of long ruck set-ups.

Video Spacer

Rugbypass TV

Watch rugby on demand, from exclusive shows and documentaries to extended highlights from RWC 2023. Anywhere. Anytime. All for free!

Join us

Video Spacer

Rugbypass TV

Watch rugby on demand, from exclusive shows and documentaries to extended highlights from RWC 2023. Anywhere. Anytime. All for free!

Join us

Here is what Owens had to say about the tackle height. “I know having spoken to people across the community game in England and Wales that the current law trial has been well received and has actually gone down better than many people expected.

“It’s certainly something that needs to be looked at in the professional game too because at the moment it’s not in law that it’s illegal to tackle upright and players are not changing their behaviour in lowering their tackle height.”

Switching to goal line drop outs, he added: “It was hoped that they would improve player safety by reducing the number of pick-and-gos and encourage teams to spread the ball along the back line rather than bulldoze their way over to score.

“But if you look at games now, teams are still picking and going and they are still bulldozing their way over the line. If anything, it rewards negative play as the defender can just chuck themselves under the ball and hold it up. So for me, goal line dropouts haven’t worked and should be changed.


“If you are attacking and you are held up, then you should be rewarded with a five-metre scrum. If we lose scrummaging from our game, then we may as well play rugby league.”

Mention the scrum, Owens took great issue with the law-ignoring influence of the scrum-half. “How scrum-halves are feeding into the scrum is worse than ever at the moment. In the past, it wasn’t really ever straight and I was probably as guilty of letting it slide as anybody else at the time, but now it is beyond a joke. Most scrum-halves may as well put it straight under the No.8’s feet.

“Too many scrums are not being refereed at the moment. Too many refs are playing on when the scrum is down and not dealing with the issues behind it, and the problem then just continues over and over again.

“They simply need to be stronger – if they can be stronger in refereeing it and in dealing with the negative scrummagers, then we will see much more of a contest at scrum time.”


The contact area was also given the Owens treatment in his weekly column. “It just needs to be refereed better. You can’t deliberately collapse a ruck and players arriving at the ruck should be arriving on their feet and not diving off them.

“I’m not saying that everybody on the ground needs to be penalised, but certainly it’s an area of the game we need to improve on. If we get more players on their feet contesting the ruck then we have more space in midfield for the players to attack. This will also reduce the amount of dangerous clearouts around the dead ruck areas when piles of bodies are on the ground.”

Box kicks also got a telling-off. “The boring and endless box kicks from long ruck set-ups need to be addressed too. The use it call needs to be as soon as the ball is available as in law or I would even think about reducing it to maybe three seconds.”

Owens concluded: “I’m by no means calling for sweeping reforms, but few rugby fans would deny that our game needs quite a bit of attention in certain areas. Simply, if officials can get sharper and referee the current laws of the game, then rugby will be a lot stronger for it.”

  • Click here to read the entire Nigel Owens column on  



Join free



Trending on RugbyPass


BigMaul 219 days ago

The casual fan has been bemoaning the ignored infringements for years. Crooked scrum feeds, off feet at rucks and not straight line outs are just some of the worst offenders. The ruck really is a complete mess at the moment and is in the biggest need of attention. Watch a team like Exeter - it’s crazy how they go off their feet at every ruck! Great to see someone of repute raising it, though I fear it’ll make little difference.

Pecos 219 days ago

Yes, bring back the 5 metre scrums. Irish fans would certainly agree post Jordie’s RWC QF try save, wouldn’t they?

No, there’s nothing wrong with scrum feeds, as long as both teams are refereed the same. The last thing we need is more penalties for scrum feeds being a millimetre or two off. Or more scrum resets when both go down. Just play on. And no Nigel, “may as well put the ball under the #8s feet” is silly.

Yes, TMOs need adjusting. A start, maybe TMO can only INITIATE comms for potential collision foul play or touch line correction. All other TMO referrals to be INITIATED by the onfield referee.

Agree refs should speed up box kick situations. Just shorten it to “use it NOW”. If not immediate, scrum to opposition.

Yes, I think WR will eventually adopt the tackle trial law.

No, leave the ruck alone. Each one has so many variables, there’s no ONE way to referee them all. Just guidelines.

Ed 219 days ago

Can’t disagree with any of that. The crooked scrum feed has been tolerated for decades now, for reasons that I never understood.

Join free and tell us what you really think!

Sign up for free

Latest Features

Comments on RugbyPass

TRENDING Jonny May shines as Barbarians beat Fiji at Twickenham Jonny May shines as Barbarians beat Fiji at Twickenham