Paul Dobson for Rugby 365: Two of rugby’s top referees, Nigel Owens of Wales, and Jaco Peyper of South Africa are not yet ready to hang up their whistles. There had been some talk that they were set to retire. Owens is 48 and was the oldest referee at the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.
While Owens is nearing 50, Peyper is nearing 40 but, a lawyer by profession, has business involvement and a wife and two small daughters at home. And besides that the 2019 World Cup had been a disappointment. But both have confirmed that they will carry on refereeing, and top rugby will be pleased with the decisions.
Owens, who refereed the final of the 2015 World Cup and the astonishing semifinal between England and New Zealand in 2019, has a weekly column on WalesOnline. In it he spoke of his thoughts of retiring and then his firm decision to stay a referee. The lockdown caused by the coronavirus had given him time for thought.
He writes: “It’s been a horrible time for everybody in the country. Unable to go out for our day to day routines, let’s just say there has been plenty of opportunity to ponder quite a few things.
“I spoke in last week’s column about keeping busy on the farm, helping to deliver a baby calf – which was more stressful than even refereeing the World Cup final at Twickenham a few years back!
“But, like everyone else, I’ve also had time on my hands to think about the future.
“In my case, whether I would actually carry on refereeing.
“Deep down, I never really wanted to give it up just yet, but obviously there was the possibility [Six Nations match] France v England at the start of the Six Nations could have proven to be my last game as a referee.”
Then came the decision: “Well, having had phone conversations with the Welsh Rugby Union, they would like me to continue refereeing… and I’ve told them I would like to carry on as well.
“So I will be continuing to do just that next season – that’s for sure.
“When next season actually starts, nobody knows. But I’ve made a decision that I won’t be finishing at the end of this season, whenever that ends too. I will be refereeing for at least one more year, maybe another after that as well.
“Whether that’s at international level, we just don’t know. That will be up to World Rugby, if they still want me. Hopefully they will. But I will carry on at domestic and European level at least – which ends the uncertainty in my own mind – and if I referee well in those games, hopefully, the Tests will follow.”
Peyper is even more definite. He is going to be refereeing till 2023, which is the year of the next Rugby World Cup to take place in France.
Both Owens and Peyper are well aware that the level at which they referee is dependent on others – their national bodies in the first place and then World Rugby.
For Peyper 2019 was a disappointment.
He was in line for one of the World Cup semifinals but a bit of fun with exuberant Welsh supporters after he had refereed the quarterfinal match in which Wales had beaten France, ended in a photo on social media and a removal from a semifinal appointment – a decision by the organisers which most charitably can be described as controversial.
He admitted that being away from home for up to 180 days a year was hard. “There comes a time when packing your bags becomes too much. But if rugby’s your passion, you pack your bags and go.” But then the support had to be there, and he is grateful for the support he gets from his wife, Zenobia, and the continuing support of SA Rugby.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 20, 2019
In his business life, he is a consultant to the family firm Peyper Attorneys, manages a coffee shop in Bloemfontein and is involved in a catering business.
Owens owns a farm and is well known as a TV host and general personality. Both Owens and Peyper are highly experienced referees, both considered masters of their art.
Owens has refereed more Tests than anybody else in the history of the game – 76 in all. He has refereed more PRO14 matches than anybody else – 180 in all. He has refereed more European Cup matches than anybody else – 113.
Peyper, whose career is considerably shorter, has refereed well over 40 Tests, including the opening Test between the All Blacks and the B&I Lions in 2017, more Super Rugby matches than anybody else – 111 – and four finals amongst his many Currie Cup matches.
Age is not necessarily a barrier and should not be a bigger consideration than ability.
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