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End these crooked feeds at the scrum, says ref Nigel Owens

Nigel Owens

World Rugby is being urged to make a stand against the crooked feed, a move guaranteed to be given Royal assent from Buckingham Palace.

Nigel Owens, the game’s most-capped referee, will ask the governing body to tackle the game’s most contentious issue, a law ignored on such a scale that it prompted the Duke of Edinburgh to raise the subject with the Welshman at a Palace lunch hosted by the Queen.

“Pretty much everyone I have spoken to is on about this one aspect of the game, from the Duke of Edinburgh down,’’ Owens said, recalling the occasion shortly after refereeing the New Zealand-Australia World Cup final at Twickenham in 2015.

“The first thing the Duke said was: ‘Yes, I saw you referee that game last week. Tell me, why are the No.9’s not putting the ball into the scrum straight?’

“He knew enough about it to know that the ball should be fed straight into the scrum. A straight question deserves an honest answer. We, as referees, have not been refereeing it and we need to do so, myself included.

“There are so many things going on in the scrum. Sometimes the ball comes in and out and we get on with it. We did clamp down on it a couple of years ago but we have let it go since then.

“We need to get better at it and the players need to get better at it also. Something needs to be done. It needs to be credible. As a group of referees we need to discuss this at our next get-together. We are due to meet in Sydney at the end of June.’’

Law 20.5 states: ‘The scrum-half must throw the ball in straight but is allowed to align their (sic) shoulder on the middle line of the scrum, therefore allowing them to stand a shoulder-width towards their own side of the middle line.’

That amendment, enforced three years ago, has brought howls of protest from fans claiming that the change allows the ball to go into the second row faster than before.

Owens denies World Rugby has issued any instruction to ignore crooked feeds.

With referees appearing to turn a collective blind eye at the highest level, the law has been flouted season in, season out. The news that the sport’s highest-profile referee wants the law enforced will prompt a common reaction: ‘And about time, too.’

Owens, 49 this summer, plans to ‘carry on’ next season. Before the Six Nations, he said he would ‘take stock’ at the end of a tournament during which he refereed France-England, his 98th Test.

PETER JACKSON

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