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Nigel Owens has his say on the Chiefs hurdle try by Pita Gus Sowakula

By Sam Smith
(Photo by James Allan/Getty Images)

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Nigel Owens has weighed on the Super Rugby try by Pita Gus Sowakula which was allowed to stand despite the Chiefs No.8 hurdling Highlanders halfback Aaron Smith.

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From a 5-metre attacking scrum close to the left-hand touchline, Sowakula broke off and headed to the blindside where he was met by All Blacks halfback Aaron Smith.

Sowakula simply leapt over the incoming tackle and dived over the line to score untouched, leaving Aaron Smith to compare the situation to NFL players who get jumped.

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Similar attempts to jump over tackles have been penalised in the past with referees often citing the laws regarding dangerous play as a justification.

Nigel Owens made headlines during last year’s Six Nations when he offered his perspective on Johnny May’s leaping try against Italy, suggesting on Twitter that the try should have been disallowed if May intended to avoid the tackle by hurdling over the defender.

The refereeing team on the day had evidently decided the manoeuvre from May wasn’t dangerous, but Owens did confirm that “what you can’t do is jump into or jump over a tackle or would-be tackler, the same as you can’t dive or jump over a ruck to score a try.”

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In response to the debate on Twitter, Owens again offered his thoughts on the leap by Sowakula by clarifying that “you are not allowed to tackle a player in the air unless he is diving to score a try.”

Under the Dangerous Play rules, section 17 states ‘a player must not tackle, charge, pull, push or grasp an opponent whose feet are off the ground’.

In this instance, the suggestion is that Aaron Smith would not have been able to make contact with Sowakula once he is airborn.

Owens said that the play by Sowukula is ‘not defendable’ which leaves the defence with little options unless they hold back and wait on the try line for Sowakula to land.

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This then brought into question the legality of the carry, which writer Sam Larner asserted that ‘every carry must be defendable’.

The act of hurdling a player by the ball-carrier isn’t specifically outlawed within the rules of the game, instead coming under interpretations of dangerous play, so until there is a black and white ban on hurdling, it may result in different outcomes each time.

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