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Nigel Owens has his say on the Joe Hawkins ineligible-for-Wales saga

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Lorenzo Di Cola/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Test centurion referee Nigel Owens has waded into the debate about Wales midfielder Joe Hawkins signing for Exeter, a decision that has resulted in the 20-year-old no long being eligible to represent his country due to the 25-cap rule in place for Welsh players based in the Gallagher Premiership and elsewhere.


It was last Monday when Wales boss Warren Gatland omitted Hawkins from the preliminary squad named for the upcoming Rugby World Cup in France, a WRU-enforced outcome that resulted in Hawkins taking to social media in midweek to defend his cross-border switch to the Chiefs.

In the meantime, Owens attended last weekend’s Challenge Cup semi-final at Parc Y Scarlets between the home side and Glasgow Warriors, an occasion that attracted a vibrant attendance of nearly 13,000 – among them Owens and his godchildren.

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Owens described his night out as “the best time I have had at a rugby match in a while” and it got him thinking about the need to have a thriving regional rugby product in Wales.

His thoughts resulted in a column for this weekend’s that touched on the departure of Hawkins to England. “For me, it’s plain and simple – whatever it takes, whatever we need to do to get our regions strong and get our best players playing in Wales, we need to do it.


“We have already seen in the last week or so how we can lose out on promising players who choose to go on and play outside of Wales. Joe Hawkins is a great player, but he should be playing in Wales. I’m not telling him what he should be doing, of course, as there are plenty of other things you need to factor into his decision to move to Exeter Chiefs, a move that has seen him ruled out of Warren Gatland’s World Cup squad.

“It’s understandable why he moved. People always say we should let players go and play wherever they want and obviously yes, you need to have that freedom to choose at the end of the day.


“It’s a short career and you’ve got to enjoy it while you last and take those opportunities, especially if they are going to help you out in the future too. Exeter is a great club and I have a huge amount of respect for them and Joe. I know he will make a success of himself there.

“But at the same time, it feels like such a waste losing Joe from the Welsh game, and that is why we need to do all we can to keep talents like him here.”


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