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The tackle technique warnings Nigel Owens issued to Owen Farrell

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

Former Test referee Nigel Owens has revealed that he previously had a number of conversations with Owen Farrell where he warned the England player about his tackle technique. Farrell has been headline news this past week after his citing and subsequent ban for his tackle with Saracens on Gloucester’s Jack Clement.


The incident escaped sanction during the Gallagher Premiership match at Kingsholm as referee Karl Dickson erroneously thought the collision hadn’t happened in the same passage of play and couldn’t be reviewed with his TMO.

However, the foul tackle resulted in a citing for Farrell and it emerged on Wednesday that he had copped a four-match ban, a punishment that will be reduced to three provided he successfully completes the World Rugby coaching intervention programme. That would free him to be selected by England for their Guinness Six Nations opener versus Scotland on February 4.

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Both the Farrell tackle and his subsequent suspension have generated a huge reaction and Owens, the first referee to take charge of 100 Test matches, has now shared his thoughts in his latest column.

“I had a couple of conversations with him on his tackle technique when he was England captain,” recalled the now-retired referee. “I told him that if he was going in high and he gets it wrong, he would be in trouble.


“And, also, when the shoulder hits, your arm should be there wrapping in that split-second, simultaneously. You can’t have your arm down below as an afterthought. I had that conversation with him. If that’s his tackling technique, he needs to change or address that. He’s not the only one, of course. But, otherwise, you’ll end up with a red card but also you have got to think of the other player’s safety.


“I don’t know whether him driving up through the tackle is a rugby league influence – there are a lot of rugby league coaches in the game now. But if you get that technique wrong, you’ll be in trouble.”

Owens went on to explain that even though he is currently involved in coaching referees with the WRU and is also on the URC refereeing coaching panel, he is watching some games now and really doesn’t know what decision is going to be made due to the way mitigation is applied.

Looking at the Farrell or Manu Tuilagi incidents, if it’s the case that it was always going to be illegal because they weren’t going to make a wrap in time, then, sorry, it’s a red card,” Owens continued. “If you felt they were in the process of making an illegal tackle, but something failed at the last second, there’s your mitigation. But if you’re going in shoulder-high or leading with a shoulder, forearm or head, then you can’t get away with that.”

Owens finished his lengthy column by outlining what he believes needs to happen, stating that it needs to be decided what a red card is used for. “Everything you need to have a safe game of rugby is in the lawbook already. Going back to Farrell’s technique, players, as a whole, need to adjust.


“It’s not a refereeing problem if a player commits an act of foul play or recklessness, it’s a player issue and it only becomes an officiating problem if they don’t deal with it. So you have to ask the players why they are still doing this. Why are you still flying in shoulder-first towards the head? You know the consequences and the dangers, but we’re still seeing it.

“They need to sort out exactly what the red card is. And that should be an act of thuggery or absolute recklessness and stupidity. We need referees to identify red cards and deal with them. Then the citing procedure needs to be stronger and stricter with players not changing their behaviour.”


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