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Nigel Owens on the RFU's divisive new tackle height law

By Ian Cameron
Nigel Owens / PA

Former international rugby referee Nigel Owens has expressed concerns about the new tackle laws set to take effect in English rugby on July 1, 2023.

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The laws will lower the tackle height to the waist from National League 1 and lower, as well as age grade rugby.

It’s a decision that has split rugby, with many fans furious over the radical change to the sport for amateur players.

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Owens stated that the changes will make life “difficult” for match officials and that there will need to be “a huge shift” in player behaviour in order to comply with the new rules.

The 51-year-old emphasized that the new laws will require a significant adjustment period for players, coaches, and referees alike, and that it will be important for everyone involved in the game to work together in order to ensure a smooth transition.

“Most importantly there needs to be total clarity for the referees because it is a contact sport,” Owens told the BBC Radio 5 Live. “It is going to be very difficult, I would think, unless there is total clarity around this to have a shift in the behaviour to referee it.

“Anything that comes in to enhance player safety, because that is paramount in the game, it should be welcome,” said Owens.  “The only issue is there are a lot of questions around this by the players who play the game, ex-players and officials and everybody involved in the game. So there’s a lot of questions around this at the moment which we are finding it difficult to get answers to.

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“It’s going to be very interesting to see how it all plays out, how will the game look and will it be a much safer game?”

Over 60,000 people have signed an online petition on Change.org calling on the RFU to reconsider the radical law change, with Owens suggesting people were signing it in good faith.

“I don’t think people are signing a petition not wanting to make the game safe.”

“They are signing it because they want to know how this is going to better the game, how is it going to make the game safer.

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Owens also challenged how many of the laws would be interpreted given there are other areas of the game other than standard tackle situations when players make contact.

“If the ball carrier is going to ground near the try-line, how are you going to be able to get below his waist to tackle him?

“How do you now set up a maul? Because the ball-carrier is on his feet, the defenders wrap around him and you can’t join a maul below the waist.

“There are a lot of question marks and that is what needs to be addressed.”

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