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Nigel Owens explains the biggest decision he ever made in a game

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

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Centurion Test level referee Nigel Owens has reflected on the biggest decision he ever had to make in a game of rugby. The long-serving Welsh official, who reached his 100th Test match milestone last November before retiring from the international scene, cast his mind back to the 2019 World Cup when asked on the latest edition of Whistle Watch about his biggest refereeing decision. 


“The biggest decisions you make in a game is if you have to give someone a red card, particularly when it is in a big World Cup match for example like in 2019,” explained veteran referee Owens in his World Rugby-backed video series.  

“I had to give a red card to (Tomas) Lavanini from Argentina for a head-high tackle on Owen Farrell and you know if you give a red card they are game-changing decisions. You know that red card was probably going to have an outcome on the game because you knew then with 14 men… you can still win with 14 men, we have seen it happen, but it is a bit more difficult. 

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“They are the big decisions and that is what you have to ensure when you give those decisions you are 100 per cent correct, as you should do (with any decision) in the game anyway. A good question that.”

With Lavanini sent off from the field of play in the first half in Tokyo 22 months ago, Argentina went on to get beaten 39-10 to confirm their elimination from their finals at the pool stage and their indiscipline was a topic touched on by Owens a second time in his latest Whistle Watch as he went on to describe the Pumas’ inability to legally defend the maul as a prime reason why they were defeated 29-10 last Saturday by the Springboks in the Rugby Championship.

“Argentina have got penalised quite a bit in the Rugby Championship because of their indiscipline when they are defending, particularly when defending mauls late on in the game,” he reasoned. “Now what happens when you defend a maul, it’s very, very difficult to stop the driving maul so teams tend to then commit quite a few offences in that maul. 


“If you can come through the maul and you have players from both sides on either side of you and you can get on the maul then you are perfectly legal, but what you see happening is people creeping around the side. 

“When you are bound in a maul you must keep at least one arm bound on to another player in the maul. If you detach that, if you take your bind away, you are no longer part of that maul and that means if you want to rejoin that maul you have to go back behind the last player in the maul of your own team and bind onto him. 

“So mauls are very, very difficult to defend and that is why you tend to see a lot of penalties given away and that is what Argentina were doing in the maul, breaking their bind and coming in from the side, swimming round rather than trying to defend going up through the middle.”



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