Nigel Owens, the most capped referee in world rugby, has officially ended his 17-year international career. The Autumn Nations Cup match between France and Italy last month was his 100th and final test, having made his international debut refereeing Portugal against Georgia in February 2003.
Owens said: “No one has the divine right to continue forever. There comes a time when it is time to move on for the international arbitration to come to an end now that the France vs Italy match was my last test match. Going out at 100 is a good time to do it.
“I will not be present in 2023, I do not want to. I still hope to referee at Pro 14 and locally in Wales this season and maybe next season as well.. I will certainly continue to referee in the community game because when you are very lucky to get so much out of something, I think it is very important that you also give something back.
“I will also take on a coaching role in the WRU, helping some of our talented young referees that we have here in Wales, so that’s something I’m quite excited about. We currently have five referees, including myself, refereeing at the Pro 14 level, so it will be exciting to help them progress further, as well as our other male and female referees to come. “
MILESTONES: Reaching 100 caps was obviously a milestone in the end.
“I haven’t refereed to reach milestones, but obviously when those milestones happen, like when you hit your first cap, it’s something special. When I made my 50th international match in Dublin it was Brian O’Driscoll’s last international match in Ireland so it was quite a special occasion and obviously as the years go by your goal is to go to a World Cup. Rugby World and then to another. After the 2019 world cup, going into the Six Nations, you were probably looking to end the day at the time, and all of a sudden you’re in 98 test matches. Fortunately I got two more games and I hit that milestone so it’s something I’m proud of But the most important thing is that I made my family and my community proud, which I think is more important.
“I am sure it is something I will appreciate more when I have time to think about it, maybe I will even watch the 2015 RWC final one day! Seriously, I think it is important to set goals, but realistic: take each step and time and then set a new one.
“In addition to refereeing the World Cup final and other great international matches such as South Africa’s match against New Zealand in 2013, and memorable European occasions such as the seven Champions Cup finals and two Challenge Cup finals, there are also many other memories. One that stands out was that he was asked to referee 12-year-old Pencoed against Cwmbran.
“I showed up the morning after refereeing a Heineken Cup game in Leicester. I met the team before so they gave me a great reception when I arrived, but a player in the corner of the locker room said, ‘I hope you refer to this match better than yesterday’! I just thought, this is what rugby is all about and that will always remain in my memory along with many other times. “
REPRESENTING WALES “People ask me, which one would you choose, refereeing the Rugby World Cup final or watching Wales in the World Cup final?
“It’s a very easy question: see my country in the final. We were so close to getting there in 2011 and 2015 as well. Your country always comes first, whatever sport you play, but the best thing I can do was become a referee there and it was a privilege and an honor to represent my country, my community and all those involved in refereeing and Welsh rugby on that stage.
“My whole Mynyddcerrig town was just amazing that week, it was like a carnival! There was something every day, the club was packed every night, there were people driving from places like Pontypridd, Merthyr, Aberystwyth and Cardigan because the club had been on TV that week and they wanted to be a part of it. It was amazing what that meant for my community and my dad in particular or something very, very special and that’s what made the world cup final so special to me. My only regret is not being able to be there with them to enjoy it all! “
“I have many people to thank from Clive Norling, who was the WRU umpire manager who gave me my first chance, Derek Bevan was my coach for years and other people helped me in different ways than Bob Yeman and Clayton Thomas, to characters like Alyn West in Llanelli & District. It is an ongoing process and you learn something from everyone who helps, trains or evaluates you over the years. I am very grateful to so many different people, I owe a lot to the people of rugby and sport and I want to help ensure that Wales remains a great nation of referees as it always has been.
“My education also had a great influence on me. Humor and Welsh are a big part of who I am. I was on stage at Mynyddcerrig Club at 14 doing stand-up comedy and I spoke in public with the Young Farmers movement. There is no doubt that grounding helped my communication skills as a referee. “
ON INCLUSION IN THE RUGBY UNION
“Unless you are allowed to be yourself and be happy with yourself, you cannot enjoy life or be the best that you can be.
“It is important that everyone treat us the same and that we are judged on our character and nothing else. Not in the color of your skin, your sexuality, religious beliefs or where you come from. “Those issues hampered my life growing up and put me in a very dark place for quite a long period in my teens and early 20s, but I got a second chance, I was allowed to be who I am and I think it’s very important that everyone get that chance. “
“For me, one of the most important values and ethics in rugby union is the value of respect. I believe that today’s society lacks respect, but I believe that rugby values are respected more than any other sport in the world. We cannot take the moral ground, as there are many things that rugby can improve on, but one thing is for sure, it leads in inclusion, diversity, fair play and equality for all and that is something that I am very proud to be a part of. ” .
TIPS FOR PLAYERS
“I would say to any young player, particularly those who have the ambition to reach the international stage and fail for some other reason, that refereeing is without a doubt the best option.
“I would not change anything. I have traveled the world for most of the last 20 years, I have played a small role in some of the best occasions in rugby and you could be a part of that too if you take the whistle. We are here to support you. You won’t regret it if it’s something you enjoy and are passionate about. It’s not for everyone, but with a lot of time and effort, it can be a lot of fun, so I encourage anyone to give it a good try. “
WRU President Rob Butcher added: “It is a truly fantastic achievement for a referee to reach 100 caps. Furthermore, Nigel has always been and continues to be a fantastic ambassador for Welsh rugby around the world. He is a role model for many, not only because of his refereeing but because of his communication and the way he conducts all aspects of his life.
“Along with most of the nations that play rugby, we need to continue recruiting referees, and who better than Nigel to inspire future match officials for Wales. You may not go as far as you would like as a player. If that’s the case, why not try arbitrating? Not necessarily internationally, but whatever its standard. “