Nigel Owens was very surprised by the England team’s knowledge deficit about the rules surrounding rucks, writes Stephen Barry.
The Welsh referee has previously encountered situations like Italy’s refusal to engage in rucks, which alters the offside line, and says they’re nothing new.
Italy repeatedly used the tactic with a regularity rarely seen in professional rugby, causing consternation among the England players, with Dylan Hartley and James Haskell approaching referee Romain Poite on a number of occasions to question the rule.
Speaking on Brian Moore’s Full Contact podcast , Owens remarked: “I am surprised because I’ve been in with the Welsh squad two or three times this year going through different things, refereeing some contact sessions and explaining a couple of things to them.
“Wayne Barnes was in with England last week, and JP Doyle and a few of the English referees are in with England as well. Now, whether they’ve actually discussed this thing, I would be very surprised if they haven’t, but I don’t know. But I’d be very surprised if players don’t know this.
“I haven’t seen the game but I believe James Haskell asked the question ‘What is a ruck?’ Obviously, if he asked that question, he doesn’t know what it is.
“I am surprised that players don’t know this because we, as referees, tend to go in with our national squads and part of our job is to go in and discuss stuff like this.”
Italy pulling away from forming a ruck changes the usual offside line to a one-metre circle around the tackle, which enabled them to block the passing lanes available to the England scrum-half.
Owens added that he’s refereed the tactic regularly in recent times, including in Connacht last week.
“This tactic was done by the Chiefs in Super Rugby about two years ago and it’s been done quite recently by a few teams,” he said.
“The Dragons did it last week on a couple of occasions when I reffed them out in Connacht. So it’s nothing new.
“It’s something we referees have discussed how we’re going to referee it and made aware it’s a tactic that’s within the laws of the game, whether we like it or not.”
The game at Twickenham has caused World Rugby to review the laws and consider a rule change which would avoid repeats of the Italians’ regular use of the tactic.