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History maker Nigel set for century in Paris

World Rugby Referee of the Year 2015 - Nigel Owens

History maker Nigel set for century in Paris

A few weeks ago Welsh rugby was celebrating Alun Wyn Jones becoming the first player in history to play 150 Test matches and this weekend Nigel Owens will become the first referee to control 100 internationals.

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Owens’ landmark will come in Paris when France take on Italy in the Autumn Nations Cup on Saturday – more than 17 years on from his first taste of international action in Portugal.

Having first taken up the whistle in 1987 as a teenager on the recommendation of his sports teacher, John Beynon, his first game was an U15 match between Carmarthen and Pembrokeshire.

Since then he has gone on to become the world game’s most respected and successful match official. Down the year’s he has enjoyed many highlights:

2001 first of three professional referees appointed by WRU
2002 Heineken Cup debut, Calvisanso v Perpigan
2003 first international match, Portugal 34-30 Georgia in Lisbon
2005 first World Rugby Test match, Japan 12-44 Ireland in Osaka
2007 first of four World Cups
2007 first of two European Challenge Cup finals
2008 first of record seven Heineken Champions Cup finals
2009 refereed Southern Kings v British & Irish Lions
2011 first of record six Celtic Rugby / PRO14 finals
2011 second Rugby World Cup
2013 100th PRO4 game
2015 followed Derek Bevan as Welsh referee in Rugby World Cup Final
2015 World Rugby Referee of the Year
2016 MBE for Services to Sport
2016 overtook South African referee Jonathan Kaplan’s world record of 70 Tests
2017 first referee to 100 games in Heineken Champions Cup in final at Murrayfield
2018 refereed the Varsity Match at Twickenham
2019 fourth Rugby World Cup
2019 refereed Wales XV v Barbarians at Principality Stadium
2020 eighth Heineken Champions Cup final
2020 record equalling 21st Six Nations appearance as referee and record 25th as touch judge
2020 first referee to control 100 Test matches

He followed in the footsteps of many great Welsh referees – Albert Freethy, Ivor David, Gwynne Walters, Clive Norling, Derek Bevan and Clayton Thomas – and set new standards in the professional game.

He will be 50 next year, but hopes to continue refereeing into next season at some level. But it seems his days at the top, certainly as an international referee, are likely to end in Paris this weekend.

One man who won’t ever forget him is the Benetton Treviso scrum half Tobias Botes. The South African scrum half incurred the wrath of Owens at Thomond Park when the Italian side were playing against Munster in 2012. After calling him over for a chat, along with his captain, this is how the Welsh official read the riot act to him.

“I don’t think we’ve met before but I’m the referee on this field, not you. Stick to your job and I will do mine. If I hear you shouting for anything again I’m going to be penalising you. This is not soccer. Is that clear?” Job done!

I loved refereeing at the 2007 World Cup because my mother was still alive and she got to watch me on TV, but of the four tournaments I’ve been to the game that stands out above all others has to be the 2015 World Cup Final.

It is the pinnacle for players and referees – the big game. At the end of the match, in which New Zealand beat Australia, David Pocock came up to me and shook my hand and said thanks for refereeing a good game.

Here was a man who has just lost the biggest game of his life taking time out to thank me. After that, the All Blacks flanker Jerome Kaino came over and thanked me. He also told me he had watched the documentary programme about my life the night before the game.

He said it was very special and told me I should feel very proud about not only what I had done on the field, but also off it. I thought, this guy has just come over to tell me that when he should be celebrating with his team mates. Those two encounters with those two great players will be lasting moments for me throughout my life.

We’d like to send congratulations to Nigel Owens on his 100th Test. It’s a great achievement by a referee and he’s done it with a lot of colour and humour. He’s certainly added to the game, so congratulations to Nigel, we look forward to having you again mate.

It’s 100 Tests for Nigel this weekend. What a fantastic career he’s had.

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