Top rugby referee Nigel Owens has lifted the lid on what it’s like to referee the All Blacks, suggesting one player in particular might have a future with the whistle after his playing days are over.
Owens, 49, announced his retirement from test rugby this week after a 17-year career in which he officiated 100 international fixtures, though he will continue to referee in the Pro 14 and locally in Wales.
Reflecting on his career in a candid interview with Newstalk ZB‘s Jason Pine, Owens said that while his test career was over, there was no way he was moving on from the game.
“I certainly will be giving back, because I owe more to rugby and the people within rugby than rugby and they will ever, ever owe to me and I feel very humble and privileged to be a huge part of this game, and I believe it’s a responsibility and a duty to put something back into something I’ve been very fortunate to get so much out of.”
In his 100 tests at the top level, Owens officiated several All Blacks matches – most recently their semifinal against England at the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
When asked what the All Blacks were like to referee for, Owens was full of praise for the players he had dealt with, and suggested halfback Aaron Smith could one day be suited for a career in the middle.
“When you have a good captain and a good leader, a pack leader, their job is to have a good rapport with the referee, but also to put a bit of pressure on the referee; and I mean that in a positive way, to help and benefit their team. That’s what a good leader does.
“The likes of Richie McCaw, Kieran Read, even Aaron Smith – even though he wasn’t a captain when I refereed him, he always had something to say, so I hope when he retires, he’ll become a referee, because he’s been doing a good job of it in the recent years. But he’s been doing it in a humble way; he challenged you, but did it in a respectful way so it was always a pleasure to referee him.
“They knew their laws, they knew their game, the New Zealand players, so they felt confident when they would challenge you; when they felt you’d got a decision wrong.”
Speaking of Smith, Owens recalled a particular instance where the All Blacks halfback suggested he had a call wrong and, as it turned out, Smith was right.
“I remember Aaron Smith coming up to me in one game and saying ‘I think you got that wrong, Nigel.’
“I said ‘No, I think I got it right’ then I looked up on the screen at the replay and thought bloody hell, he’s right, I did get that wrong. I didn’t let him know that in the game, but I did let him know after the game.”
While Owens was the lead referee in 100 tests, he also assisted in a further 101, and was the television match official in nine more. He refereed a record 21 Six Nations matches, and 19 in the Rugby World Cup.
This article first appeared on the New Zealand Herald and is republished with permission here.
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