Nigel Owens has World Rugby officials in Dublin to thank for their permission to allow him to referee his native Wales when they take on the Barbarians on Saturday at Principality Stadium.
Neutral referees have long been the norm on the international rugby circuit but the Welsh Rugby Union asked – and received – the go-ahead to have Owens take charge of his native country on a one-off occasion that will celebrate Warren Gatland’s twelve-year stint in charge of Wales.
Gatland is taking charge of the Barbarians in the fixture versus the now Wayne Pivac-coached Wales and Owens will experience the moment of a lifetime – being on the whistle for a match involving the men in red.
He is not the first to do so, mind. When Test rugby began in the 1800s the tradition was for the host country to appoint the referee. Also, Derek Bevan was bestowed the same honour as Owens will receive, refereeing Wales in a fixture versus the Barbarians.
Bevan was in charge in 2000 and his fellow Welshman now bridges that 19-year gap in an era where World Rugby now control the appointment of all match officials.
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Explaining the unusual situation, the WRU said: “A further unique move will see Welsh refereeing royalty Nigel Owens officiate a match involving his native country for the first time in his career – after receiving special dispensation from World Rugby.”
This allowance was favourably received by Owens, who revealed in his walesonline.com column on Saturday ahead of the match that it will be a special day for him. “It’s not every afternoon you are handed the opportunity to referee your own country in a Test match,” he said.
“I feel honoured, although let me stress one thing – Wales, or not, I will be refereeing this match as I would any other. With complete impartiality. On the day, they will be the team in red to me, not Wales.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 30, 2019
“But there is no denying it is a wonderful opportunity and I’ve had to get about 50 tickets for family and people wanting to come up from my home area of Mynyddcerrig to support me, who normally don’t get this kind of chance as I obviously tend to be elsewhere in Europe, or the world, on international day.”
He added: “Do you know one of the moments I’m most looking forward to? Around 2.40pm, a few minutes before kick-off when I will be standing there with the teams, the Welsh anthem being sung by the players and 60,000-plus fans inside the stadium. And I will be there blasting it out as loudly, and proudly, as any of them. Too right I will. I love our anthem.”
Refereeing a match at the Principality Stadium, though, isn’t a first for Owens with the 2008 Heineken Cup final and 2015 World Cup fixtures between Ireland-France and New Zealand-France among his appointments in a stellar career.
WATCH: Warren Gatland on what it will be like taking on his old team Wales this weekend as Barbarians coach
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