The top two Welsh whistlers may be at opposite ends of their careers, but there are still a number of similarities in their rise to the top.
Both started refereeing at 16 years of age and started their Test careers at sevens before progressing to Junior World Cups. In Owens’s early days this was at U19 and 21 age groups before World Rugby changed the status to U20 age group.
While Owens is counting down the days before he takes part in his fourth Rugby World Cup in Japan in September, his protégé is currently in Argentina officiating in the U20 Junior World Cup for the second time.
Evans had the honour of refereeing the opening game of the tournament in Santa Fe where Scotland and South Africa dazzled in the sunshine. In the second round of matches he ran the line in two games and will tomorrow referee England v Australia in the final round of group matches.
Having established himself as one of the leading referees on the sevens World Series, Evans skipped the final two round in London and Paris in preparation for the Junior World Cup.
“It is exciting because there is always a good spirit of rugby with the U20s – teams are really positive in playing rugby,” said Evans in Rosario.
“In the last three years I’ve done 17 sevens tournaments tournaments and potentially could do another eight to 10 in the next year to the build-up to the Olympics and then I’ll probably knock sevens on the head,” he added.
Evans has worked closely with Owens over the past few years but the young pretender is determined to be his own man as he continues his ascent up the rankings.
“When you’ve got Nigel achieving what he has, I don’t want to say I’ll be the next Nigel Owens because you have got to be yourself. If I could achieve just 10 per cent of what Nigel has done then I would be happy.
“He was the one who spotted me years ago in a Urdd sevens tournament and helped me through the early days in Division 6 and came to watch games – he’s been instrumental in my development.
“Whether by phone or email, or meeting for a coffee to go through games, he’s been a massive role model. Even though he’s achieved everything he has in the game – six European Cup finals, six Pro 14 finals and World Cups, he still has that desire.
“He doesn’t want to go to the World Cup and just be part of it, he wants to ref the highest game he can and same as me here. I’ve obviously done a lot of sevens, but I haven’t come here for three and half weeks in Argentina for a holiday – I’ve come here to see what I can do, enjoy it and learn. Ultimately, if anyone had said they are coming here and not going to do the best they can, then they shouldn’t be coming here.”
WRU National Referee Performance Manager Paul Adams is full of praise for both of his referees.
“Nigel has been an excellent role model for not only Welsh referees but also from further afield,” said Adams. “After refereeing the final of the last World Cup it would have been easy for Nigel to think that he has achieved everything in the game.
“However, he was determined to go to this year’s World Cup and what goes unseen is the effort he has put in to not only maintain his physical fitness but also to work on the technical aspects of his game. All his hard work has been rewarded and he sets the standard for all up and coming referees.
“Craig is at the opposite end of his career. He has already had a very distinguished sevens career and is recognised as one of the best referees in the world in the shortened version of the game.
“The sevens circuit has been very beneficial for Craig and the challenge for him is to perform equally as well in the full game. Craig made his debut in the Pro 14 this year, and also refereed age grade Test matches. He is touted by many to referee senior Test matches in the near future. The Junior World Cup is the ideal platform for Craig to launch his 15-a-side career.”