Nigel Owens on the one law change he'd love to see
"You could get the spaces will open up a bit more. There'll be a bit more gaps for people to get through."
Nigel Owens describes his decision to get into refereeing as one that was made for him when he missed a last-minute kick to win his beleaguered team a rare schools cup game. His sports teacher John Benyon bellowed at him that the only time he wanted to see him on a rugby pitch again was as a referee.
The Wales native took that choice advice and started reffing at 16. A decade and a half later and he was the man in the middle for Challenge and European Cup games. His star continued to rise up to and beyond the 2007 World Cup, when he was chosen to officiate at the finals.
Owens is 49 now but still at the top of the world game and wants to keep going for another year or two. On the latest episode of House of Rugby Ireland (from 22:00 below) Owens joined Ian Madigan and Eimear Considine and was only too happy to get technical on the game he loves. He even suggested a rule change he would love to see.
As part of the show's Guinness House of Rugby Hall of Fame, Owens answered a few fan questions and one from Jay Long stood out:
'Are there any changes to the game that you would like to see, to try and jazz up the game for the casual observer?'
"I think you've got to be careful when you want to change the game and sort of make it a game where you think everyone in the world will want to sit down and watch it," Owens responded.
"It's quite a unique game, rugby, and it's quite a complex game. Unless you're going to change the laws and make rugby totally unrecognisable to the game we're used to, then there's not much you can do, really."
That being said, Owens has one rule change he would love to see implemented by World Rugby and he offered up some valid reasons for it too.
"The one thing for me that I would like to see happen - and I think it would contribute to the game being a bit more open - and that would be reduce the amount of substitutions.
"I think eight on the bench is far too many. When you have eight coming on - or 16 coming on, from both teams - you have a stop-start second half. Stop. Sub on. Stop. Sub off.
"Imagine if you've been playing your guts out for 60 minutes and, all of a sudden, they bring on a prop opposite you who's fresh and then you've got to scrummage against him for the next 20 minutes.
"I think it would help with player fatigue a bit, and then you could get the spaces will open up a bit more. There'll be a bit more gaps for people to get through. You won't also have a guy who's been playing for 60 minutes, a little bit tired and then, all of a sudden, he's got to play up against somebody who's come on with a fresh pair of legs.
"So whether that becomes unsafe and stuff, I don't know. You'd have to look at all the stats and how they look into this stuff on player safety. But I certainly would like to see the amount of substitutions reduced, to be honest. At least from eight to at least five. Maybe even four."
During the same conversation with Owens, Ian Madigan spoke about one area of the game he would love to see looked at in depth, and possibly changed.
"For me," he began, "as one of the smaller guys out there, at around 90 kilos, I personally don't like the pre-latch.
I think the South Africans were probably the ones that brought it in, and it has found its way over to our hemisphere. But, you've got two guys who are probably 110 or 120 kilos, doubling their weight before contact.
"It's just a huge mass to take through for the smaller guys. I don't mind defending their body-weight, once contact has been made, but I was interested to get your thoughts on that."
"That's a good point, really," said Owens.
"It's something I have brought up in previous questions with people around, because they were looking at the latch and particularly when it goes to ground, and the latcher stays on the ball carrier, preventing a contest. So they were looking at that.
"There was a discussion going around about whether they could make it illegal for a player to latch onto a ball carrier before a tackle is made; an attempt to tackle is made. But then the interesting point - and one I hadn't thought about until it was raised - is that so many of the tackles are now two on one, it now makes it unfair that if you have two defenders tackling the ball-carrier, then should the ball-carrier then be entitled to (some support).
"Imagine you had the ball and what you said is quite a valid point - you're going to tackle to big South African ball-carriers with one latched on to the other. That's a hell of a job to do. But then, put it the other way then. Imagine if you're the ball-carrier and then there's a player, with another guy latched on, coming to tackle you."
As Owens notes, rugby is quite a complex game. One rule tweak here could have another impact there, and all sides have to be considered.
The beauty of the game, though, is that it is not hard and fast on rules. There is always scope for change and room for improvement.
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Season 3 has returned with Ian Madigan & Eimear Considine as hosts. You can catch up on all our episodes from past seasons and interviews with Conrad Smith, Victor Matfield, Simon Zebo, Jacob Stockdale, Drew Mitchell, Jean De Villiers, Finn Russell, Mike Brown, Brian O'Driscoll, Tana Umaga and much, much more.