World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont has called Nigel Owens “one of the greats of our game,” following the referee’s retirement from international rugby.

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After a 17-year career of refereeing on the Test scene, the 49-year-old said on Friday that his 100th Test match during the Autumn Nations Cup was his last at that level, though he will continue in the Guinness PRO14.

The Welshman officiated France’s victory over Italy in his final game in November, becoming the first referee to reach the 100 match milestone.

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Beaumont led the tributes to Owens online, sharing this message on Twitter:

“One of the greats of our game is hanging-up his international whistle.

“Just as important as being the first centurion referee who has continually been exceptional, Nigel is a fabulous ambassador for the sport and its values and an inspiration to millions.”

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Beaumont elaborated on this on the World Rugby website, saying: “What makes Nigel so special is not only his exemplary international refereeing career, but also his contribution to the game and society as a role model of rugby’s unique values of integrity, passion, solidarity, discipline and respect.

“On behalf of World Rugby I would like to thank Nigel for his incredible dedication, commitment, passion and love for the game, which led him to the pinnacle as referee of the Rugby World Cup 2015 final and a very well deserved World Rugby Referee Award.

“Players, coaches and everyone involved in the international game will certainly miss his wonderful sense of humour and the positive attitude and unique spirit with which he applied himself to all 100 of his record-breaking test matches as a referee. He will rightly be regarded as one of the very best ever.”

Alongside refereeing 100 Test matches, Owens was also an assistant referee for another 101 and a television match official for nine, meaning he was involved in 210 over his career. His humour and personality left a mark on most matches he officiated, and many players on Twitter are also acknowledging the career he has had.

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Former Engalnd captain Will Carling said: “You massively underestimate what you have given to rugby Nigel. Your ability to manage a game with insight, humour and understanding has been unmatched. As has your contribution as a great man – has been an honour & pleasure to watch.”

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