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Nigel Owens explains the help he has given Wales for Six Nations and why England could have had three tries chalked off against Italy – Nigel Owens

Wales’ two wins from two start to the Six Nations doesn’t surprise me in the slightest and I actually think they’ll make it three by just edging past England as well next weekend.

I know a lot of people were writing them off before the tournament started, mainly as a result of a disappointing fifth-placed finish last time out and an ordinary, at best, Autumn Nations Cup campaign.

But I went into the Welsh camp just before their Ireland opener to referee a contact session for them, explain what they could and, more importantly, couldn’t get away with once the action commenced.

It’s standard practice, England will have had their own referees doing similar things. So too Ireland, Scotland and the other countries.

I have to say the Welsh players looked as sharp and well drilled as I have seen them for a while. I was very impressed, they were keen, the mood in the dressing room was clearly very good and I said there and then they would beat Ireland, then Scotland and do battle with England for the Triple Crown in round three.

Okay, I didn’t anticipate Ireland and Scotland having players sent off. I concede that maybe Ireland would have won in Cardiff had Peter O’Mahony not been rightly red-carded, but the truth is we don’t know for certain.

But I certainly don’t buy the theory Scotland would have won were Zander Fagerson not sent off midway through the second half.

I felt Wales had stuck in the game whilst under pressure, Liam Williams scored a try to give new impetus and belief, and the scrum and lineout were looking solid. As such, I expected Wales to mount a really strong finish in the closing 20 minutes, be that against 14 men or 15 men, and thought they would come through to win.

Which they narrowly did, of course, setting up a huge occasion against the old enemy England at the Principality Stadium next weekend. What a shame the fans won’t be able to attend and give Wales that so-called 16th man, which they in particular get when the ground is packed out against England.

The Welsh players will know though that from Cardiff, to Cardigan to Conwy, a nation will be united to roar on the team. Even if it in front of the TV in their front rooms on this occasion.

It’s wrong to say Wales got lucky against Ireland and Scotland. They have displayed a discipline their opponents haven’t in making sure their actions at the ruck are within the boundaries of the law.

When I was in camp, I explained to the players that if you charge into a challenge, with elbow out, ie away from its natural position at the side of your body, and make contact with the head of an opponent, the directive is to give a red card.

“Don’t put yourself in that position,” I stressed, explaining they needed to keep 15 men on the field and shouldn’t be placing any opponent in danger anyway.

This was particularly relevant, I tried to explain, when it came to clearing out opponents at a ruck, particularly if someone was in effect trapped on the floor.

Referees are being told to be very strict on this, I emphasised, so just think carefully about what you are doing.

Clearly Wayne Pivac and his coaches, aware of this, have instilled the message into the Welsh players. As such, so far so good, which is more than you can say for their opponents.

I’ve heard pundits and ex-players question English referee Matthew Carley’s decision to send off Fagerson, how else do you clear out, that sort of thing?



Wales have shown far greater discipline at the breakdown than their Six Nations opponents to date. Here Zander Fagerson of Scotland is shown red

It irritates me a little because the laws are crystal clear. If you charge from a distance, and at pace, towards a ruck and with your elbow out, then you’re asking for trouble. The fact Wyn Jones’ head moved upwards at the last moment and point of contact isn’t relevant in this case because Fagerson’s elbow was out as he was piling in for the clearout.

Mitigation then goes out of the window. There is no place in any sport for this type of action. Charging in shoulder first into a player’s head is dangerous. Players really do need to start changing their behaviour in the way they clear out.

I do think those in the game, including esteemed former Test stars, have to be careful with what they say here, particularly given the recent headlines about player concussion and the problems that has caused.

Whether pundits or players like it or not, the law is there in black and white. You cannot clearout the way Fagerson did and make contact to the head, we each have a responsibility and duty to protect the welfare of players.

The red card decision was 100 per cent correct. Have no doubts about that. I also read this week many people complaining Peter O’Mahony got a three week ban and Zander Ferguson four weeks for a very similar offence. Well it’s pretty straightforward to me. One admitted he was wrong and that the red card was correct and the other said the red card decision was wrong.

Pretty easy to follow I’d say on why the week’s difference.

And while I know as well as anybody the pace international rugby is played at, and how things happen in the spur of the moment, sometimes players just have to stop and think about their actions and the potential consequences.

No-one is saying we want to lose the big hits in rugby, those can get fans on the edge of their seats, produce as much of a wow moment, as a piece of magic from Louis Rees-Zammit to score a wonder try. Think Scott Gibbs’ tackle on Os du Randt for the Lions, Gavin Henson on Mathew Tait, or some of the other massive, but totally legal, challenges we’ve witnessed down the years.

I’ve refereed games where players have charged at one another like thunderbolts. I’ve winced at the ferocity of some of the tackles, no quarter asked or given. It’s a key part of the game and must remain so. That’s why I laugh and am somewhat dismissive when some question whether rugby has gone soft.

Soft? You want to see some of those collisions close up!

But there is a difference between that, a proper and legal rugby collision, and charging recklessly at a ruck, which for example the disciplinary commission felt O’Mahony did in the first game.

Thankfully, and touch wood, to date Wales’ players have fully taken on board what they were told. That is to their credit because clearly keeping 15 men on the field has been a big part of their excellent start to the Championship.

So rather than look at Wales’ so-called good fortune, why not commend them for their own discipline which has been exemplary in this particular context? Don’t you make your own luck in sport, as the old saying goes?

So, the first two games successfully out of the way, will they make that a hat-trick of opening wins, beat England to clinch the Triple Crown and thus set up the remaining clashes with Italy and France as potential title deciders?

I think we will win, have momentum behind us. England are not playing well, although I’m sure they will be turning up in Cardiff looking for a vast improvement. If they manage that, then they have the talent to win themselves, of course.

But despite a two out of two record, there’s also still plenty of scope for Welsh improvement and surely that has to be a good thing for a side already boasting a 100 per cent record.

Wayne Pivac will also have his big guns back, George North, Jonathan Davies, Josh Navidi, Josh Adams – so he is facing some really tricky selection calls before finalising his starting XV.

England lost to Scotland, of course, and were much better in defeating Italy 41-18 at Twickenham. But you know what, I watched that game and for me three of their tries could easily have been chalked off.

Including the two scored by Jonny May.

There has been a debate over one of them and whether he jumped up in the air to avoid being tackled. Look, if May dived for the line, the way Rees-Zammit did for one of his tries against Scotland, then it would be very different and the try stands. But my view his his first action is to jump in the air to avoid a tackle, that’s against the law and thus that should have been a penalty.

I also thought there was a bit of a knock-on before May’s other try, although they didn’t show replays again so no-one could tell for certain. But that too could have been ruled out.

So too Anthony Watson’s try, if the referee and TMO had chosen to be firmer about Owen Farrell’s tackle on Steven Varney, the young Welshman who is playing really well for Italy, moments before. Farrell definitely caught him after the ball had gone. I’m not saying it should have been a yellow or red card, but it should have been a penalty.

So imagine if those three tries had been chalked off, suddenly the final scoreline of 41-18 would not have been quite so convincing.

No-one doubts England have enormous talent, when on form they are capable of beating any team in the world.

I refereed most of these players in the World Cup semi-final just 15 months ago when they produced a masterclass to put New Zealand to the sword.

I saw their talent first hand that day, thus I’m fully aware that if they click in Cardiff, they will be very hard to stop.

However, as a Welshman let’s hope England are not firing on full cylinders next weekend – and that Wales most definitely are.

Wales to edge it for me. Just.

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