Recently crowned refereeing centurion Nigel Owens has suggested reducing the number of substitutions to increase the speed of rugby and change what many fear is becoming a game dominated by forwards.
There is a constant discussion as to how rugby union can be improved as a product amid growing concerns that the current game is not enticing a new audience.
The crudest way to describe the current trend is that teams are often opting to kick to gain field position, and when in possession keep the ball contained within the forwards, particularly when the tryline is within close range. This may be the most efficient and reliable way to score, but the worry is that this style of rugby is unlikely to leave newcomers desperate to tune into, or attend, another match.
Speaking on BT Sports’ Rugby Tonight, Owens proffered some ideas that could change the tempo of the game and perhaps provide greater agency to the outside backs. He put forward his referee’s perspective, and what they could do better to help the game, as well as what the lawmakers could do.
“If you kick to the corner and get a maul, you’re pretty much guaranteed to score because it’s undefendable,” said Owens. “The reason it’s undefendable is because we as referees have not been good enough in setting up legal set-ups where defences have a chance of defending, so a lot of things we can do as referees is actually go back and referee the law.
“Have a bit of empathy but referee it.”
“The law I would like to change is the substitution law. I think eight subs is far too much. I think if you reduce that to five, maybe even four, and you can only use them at certain times in the game and the way substitutions are used, I think it will help reduce the size of players by a few kgs.
“You will actually see them try and find space instead of looking for the inside shoulder, to try and beat the man rather than trying to run through them. I think that would contribute hugely to the game, but there are a lot of things we can do as referees.”
"The reason it's happening is because it's a results-based business."
Kicking… Kicking… Kicking ?@IamAustinHealey and @BenKay5 look at why we're seeing teams taking less risks, and @Nigelrefowens suggests a tweak to the rules that could speed up the game.#RugbyTonight pic.twitter.com/4bFlcgGHFH
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) November 29, 2020
The notion of changing the number of substitutes is a topic that has been mooted before, but must surely be a consideration with an increasing number of people calling for action to be taken.
Owens has witnessed this evolution of rugby first hand from the middle of the pitch, as he became the first person to referee 100 Test matches at the weekend as he took charge of France’s Autumn Nations Cup clash with Italy.
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