Nigel Owens column: How to stop rugby’s kicking scourge and the scrum ‘joke’ refs must wipe out – Nigel Owens

There has been a lot of talk recently about the laws of the game, in the wake of the Lions tour and with a number of new regulations being trialled over the next 12 months.

As far as quality of rugby and excitement goes, the Lions series was pretty poor, to be honest.

It will be remembered for the lack of quality and off the field antics, which is disappointing.

The problem you get in rugby sometimes is that people then tend to have a knee-jerk reaction, saying we need to change the laws, we need to do this, we need to do that.

There are a few potential changes that I think will benefit the game.

But if you look at the recent Harlequins-Exeter English Premiership final, the Racing-Exeter European final which I did last year, the Super Saturday games in the Six Nations back in 2015, the laws were the same for those games as what we have now.

What that tells you is it comes down to the attitude of the teams on the day and what the coaches instil in terms of the game-plan.

The referee then plays a part too.

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But there are a couple of things that can be looked at.

There is far too much kicking in the game. That needs to change.

There are laws already in place which referees can apply to help reduce the amount of kicking.

The reason why teams are kicking is the contact area has become a lottery. Coaches tell me they don’t really know whether they are going to get penalised or not when they go in with the ball.

Sometimes teams are afraid to play with the ball because they don’t know what’s going to come out in the contact area, with penalties just coming out of the blue.

So instead of playing in their own half and running the risk of giving away a penalty that could lead to them conceding points, they want to play down in the opposition half. So they kick.

Space to attack is at a premium too, which I’ll come to a little later on.

First of all, the laws need to be applied. Too many players are chasing in front of the kick gaining an unfair advantage and there is too much blocking of the chasers.

When a box kick happens, the forwards in front start trundling down field before the ball is kicked and they are all offside.

When the opposition catches the ball, they can’t counter-attack because they’ve got a line of players in front of them who have arrived in that position by illegally chasing the kick, so then they have to kick back and you have a kicking contest.

We need to be stricter and keep players onside from kicks.

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You can also reduce the amount of box-kicking by cutting the time allowed to get the ball away from five seconds to three seconds.

That will get rid of these long, slow caterpillar rucks they set up to facilitate the kick.

The other key point is the contact area should be refereed the way it is in the laws.

At the moment, the defensive side is often only putting one guy in as a jackal to contest the contact area. Everybody else fans out then across the field and there is no space to attack.

What teams do now is croc-roll the jackal down to the ground or come in off their feet to seal off and the contest is gone amid a pile of bodies.

If you referee the laws correctly, both teams have to stay on their feet, which means you have more of a rucking competition, bringing more people into that area which gives a bit more space in the field of play.

This will also help reduce the amount of box kicks, I believe.

If you get rid of the pile of bodies on the ground, then you are not going to have guys charging in shoulder first to clear a player out of the way, as you had with the red cards for Zander Fagerson and Peter O’Mahony against Wales last season.

If players were kept on their feet, that would eliminate a lot of these illegal, dangerous clear-outs, with risk of contact to the head.

Referees also have to be stricter on keeping players behind the offside line, so there is more space for the attacking side. Zero tolerance is needed here.

Then you’ve got the feeding at the scrum. It has become a joke, for me. You don’t want that in the game.

It has to be refereed better. We have to clamp down on it.

As for the new laws that are being trialled worldwide, it will be interesting to see what happens with this new 50:22 kicking rule, where you get the lineout if you kick the ball from inside your own half and it bounces into touch in the opposition 22.

Is it going to see the defensive side keeping one or two players back to cover the touchlines, which means two less players in the frontline defence?

Will it see the team in possession attacking the space created as a result?

Or are teams just going to kick to the corner to get the lineout to have a drive-over, because it’s virtually impossible to prevent a try being conceded from a driving maul.

The other law they have brought in is if you are held up over the line, you now don’t get an attacking scrum but rather a goal-line drop for the defending side.

I’ve got mixed views on that one.

My concern there would be about de-powering the significance of the scrum.

The game of rugby is for all shapes and sizes and you don’t want it being like rugby league without your traditional Adam Jones-type of props.

The scrum needs to remain an important part of the game. It should be used as a good attacking weapon, both in terms of the scrum drive itself and the space out wide it creates with 16 people in the scrum.

Where I do agree with the law is it will make the attacking side a little bit more proactive. Instead of just having a series of pick-and-gos until they eventually get over, if there is a risk of being held up and losing possession, they may just think about spreading the ball a bit wider. That would open the game up a bit and reduce the amount of collisions and the risk of injury.

Hopefully it would produce a bit more positive play.

There are a couple of other law changes I would consider bringing in.

Is it worth saying you can call a mark anywhere on the field? Would that mean less of this aimless kicking.

I have been saying for years that we need to reduce the amount of substitutions.

That way, you would have more tired legs and have the game open up a bit.

What do you think of Nigel’s suggestions? Have your say in the comments

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In the second half, you sometimes have 16 players coming on, which makes it very stop-start.

With more players having to last 80 minutes, you would then see a change in body types, with players a good few kilograms lighter.

Reducing the size of players would mean fewer big-hit collisions and more openness in the game.

At the moment, you’ve got eight players on the bench every Saturday. If you reduce the number to four or five, that releases a lot of players to drop down to start at the level below and that would trickle down to the grassroots community game. That will make it easier for clubs to field sides, which would be a real plus.

But whatever new laws are brought in, the first thing is to referee the laws that are already in place. That would make a big difference.


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