Nigel Owens' 'contructive criticism' for Six Nations referees
Former international referee Nigel Owens has told William Hill that the scrums in the Six Nations have not been the best, and although this is a player problem, better accuracy and stronger decision-making from referees is needed to help deal with the issue heading into this weekend’s final round of fixtures.
“The scrum is an area of the game that needs to be refereed stronger,” said Owens. “But in all fairness to the referees, it’s an area of the game that the players need to do better at as well. It only becomes a refereeing problem when they don’t deal with the issues. It’s a piece of constructive criticism as I think the overall level of refereeing in the Six Nations has been very good, the referees can be happy with their performances overall. But that would be my constructive criticism – accuracy and actual decision-making in scrums needs to be improved.
“It hasn’t been refereed strong enough and is taking too much time to set up especially after a reset. We haven’t seen any game where the scrum has been an important area of attack or shown clear dominance by a team. We saw that with England against Ireland, although I thought a couple of those decisions should have gone Ireland’s way. I think refereeing of the scrum needs to be worked on, but players need to bring a better attitude to it as well.”
England saw Charlie Ewels sent off in just the second minute following a head-to-head collision during their defeat against Ireland last week. Owens is adamant it was the right call and says players must improve their tackling technique to avoid similar incidents of dangerous play in the future.
“It was 100 per cent the correct decision,” Owens said. “There are some questioning it – I’ve seen some comments from some clowns on social media saying, ‘if you don’t like contact sport go and play tiddlywinks’. This is player safety, this is a player’s livelihood, his health, and ability to live a full and healthy life. And people are making tackles like this and getting them wrong. There’s no malicious intent in it, he’s not a dirty player and didn’t do that to harm the player. But you have to lower your tackle and get a better technique as you know what the consequences are.
“Most of the discussions around it have been that red cards spoil the game. You need to forget this. What you should be saying is, ‘this is a nailed-on red card, players really need to be changing their behaviour’.
“I think as coaches and players, if you knew you were going to be playing a game for 79 minutes with 14 men, you’re going to want to get this message across to your players much more to not to let this happen. Whereas if you knew you were only going to be playing 20 minutes with 14 men, because for the next 60 minutes you know you’ll be back up to the full 15 (if they introduced the 20-minute red card), then maybe you won’t be pressing that message home as much.
“Referees need to stand strong, and like they did on Saturday, they need to deal with this type of action, and players need to improve their behaviour. The red card didn’t spoil the game, this was a great game of rugby. You could argue, would it have been such a great game without the red card? Would England have upped their intensity like they did with 15 men? Nobody knows.”
Heading into the final round of Six Nations fixtures this weekend, Owens believes England will need to rattle France early doors if they are to prevent them from securing the Grand Slam in Paris.
“If England can go to Paris and get amongst them, silence the crowd, take the lead, will France be able to cope with the pressure on that hugely talented but young, inexperienced side?” he said. “That is where England can go to Paris and can beat them, but they’ll need to play for 80 minutes like that. What we’ve seen with England not being able to do at the moment, is not being able to score the tries, so they’ll need to get a couple of tries on the board to get the points to beat France.
“When you look at Six Nations history, when a team wins a Grand Slam, there’s always one game where they just scraped through and that was France’s on Friday night against Wales. On Saturday I don’t think that will happen again, but England can rattle them. And if they do, that will be the way to beat the French. But it will be a very different French side in Paris.”
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