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What Nigel Owens said when Rassie Erasmus rang with SA job offer

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Lynne Cameron/Getty Images)

Nigel Owens has revealed what he said to Rassie Erasmus when the South African director of rugby recently contacted him about becoming a law and strategy consultant for the Springboks heading into the Rugby World Cup. Erasmus has fallen foul of the authorities in the last two years, copping a pair of World Rugby match day bans due to his trenchant criticism of match officials.


Fearing that everything he now says and does about referees will be forensically monitored, a rumour emerged a fortnight in the South African media that Erasmus wanted Owens on the Springboks staff to help smooth things over in the run-up to the finals and then in France itself. That media speculation was news to Owens at the time, as he had no contact with SA Rugby at that point.

However, Erasmus contacted the retired Test centurion referee a few days later and the Welsh-based farmer has now explained he is conflicted about what to do – to take six months away from his current way of life and throw everything in with helping the Springboks or turn down the offer to be involved at another World Cup.

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WATCH as South Africa’s Director of Rugby Johan Erasmus reveals the motivation behind bringing legendary referee Nigel Owens on board the Springbok coaching panel
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WATCH as South Africa’s Director of Rugby Johan Erasmus reveals the motivation behind bringing legendary referee Nigel Owens on board the Springbok coaching panel

Owens went public on his dilemma in his latest column and he hopes to soon have an answer for Erasmus one way or another. He began his column: “Two weeks ago, I received a text message from somebody I know in South Africa, asking me if the rumours were true. To be honest, as I told them, I had no idea what they were talking about.

“A few hours later, I saw online what I expect most of you will have seen by now all over social media and in the press. It was reported, first in South Africa and then in the UK and across the world, that the Springboks want me to join their coaching team ahead of this year’s World Cup.


“While receiving that text message was the first I’d heard of these rumours, I soon learned that they were true, as South Africa’s director of rugby Rassie Erasmus phoned me a few days later and indeed asked me if I’d be interested in returning to the Test arena and joining up with them in the summer as a law and strategy consultant.


“The role itself, as Rassie explained, would be nothing new for me. It would entail me being in South Africa with the squad, refereeing their contact sessions and helping them with their understanding of what they can and can’t do on the field.

“I’d be giving feedback to World Rugby on behalf of South Africa, reviewing the game from a referee’s point of view, flagging incidents the team may have a couple of questions about, or areas where we feel like they have been treated harshly.

“And after what we have seen in South African rugby over the past 18 months or so, an important part of the role would be helping Rassie and co to turn over a new leaf and improve the relationship between coaches, players and the referee.”

Owens went on to explain he had done this type of role previously and added how torn he felt about an offer of work outside Wales at a time in his life when he feels well settled after his match day retirement.


“I have known Rassie for a long time, I was refereeing when he was over here at Munster. So, I had a good, positive chat with him and he told me what the Springboks expect from their side of things. At the end of our conversation, I told him I’d have to think about it. So, what am I thinking? Well, it’s not a case of do I want to do it, but, more, is it practically possible for me to do it?”

Owens concluded his Erasmus column: “I told Rassie that I needed a week or so to think things through and that is where we have left it for now. I will go back to them when I have thought it over and then either negotiations will carry on from there or I will have to say I’m sorry and prioritise my other commitments. There is a lot for me to consider, but all I know for sure right now is that it won’t be an easy decision either way.”


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