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Nigel Owens wades into the row over the 20-minute red card trial

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

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Centurion referee Nigel Owens has re-stated his dissatisfaction with the 20-minute red card law trial. It was last March, in an interview with RugbyPass, when he outlined his unease with the trial that was taking place at the time in Super Rugby Pacific whereby a team could bring on a replacement for a red-carded player after 20 minutes. 

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This law trial has now been extended to the Rugby Championship which begins next weekend with matches in Nelspruit and Mendoza, a development that Owens, who refereed his final Test match in November 2020, doesn’t agree with. 

Replying to a question from a rugby fan on Twitter, Owens wrote: “The deterrent to change player behaviour is much more effective if the team is down to 14 men for the rest of the game than if just for 20 mins. Drop the speeding fines a few quid and one point on your licence and you won’t be as careful keeping to the speed limit will you…

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“Many are taking the risk by illegal clear-outs at ruck and upright or reckless tackles. So the 20m RC is not going to help with changing this behaviour.

“We are talking illegal tackles here which are foul play, not a legal tackle. A player should not be sent off if there is contact to the head and his actions were not illegal or totally reckless or stupidly careless.”

Red cards have been a hot topic in recent weeks following the sending-off of All Blacks prop Angus Ta’avao in his team’s second Test loss versus Ireland. It was four months ago when Owens initially explained why he didn’t like the 20-minute red card trial when speaking to RugbyPass about the sending-off of England’s Charlie Ewels after just 82 seconds of their Guinness Six Nations defeat to Ireland.

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“This was a nailed-on red card, it didn’t ruin the game and people talking about this orange card, if you’re going to have a player sent off and in 20 minutes you get another player coming on instead of him, that isn’t going to change player behaviour. 

“It isn’t going to make coaches really hit home to players you have to change tackle techniques because if you’re going to be back up to 15 men for 60 minutes compared to being down to 14 men for 80, I don’t think that is enough of a deterrent for player behaviour.”

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