World Rugby Chairman Sir Bill Beaumont has paid tribute to rugby’s revered centurion referee Nigel Owens, who has today announced his retirement from the international stage.
Following a stellar test career, spanning 17 years and 210 matches in total, including exactly 100 as referee, one of the best known, loved and decorated personalities in the game has called time on his international career.
Owens reached the very pinnacle of the game when taking charge of the Rugby World Cup 2015 final between New Zealand and Australia at Twickenham and received the World Rugby Referee Award a day later.
Undoubtedly one of the game’s most enthusiastic and well-renowned ambassadors, he became the first referee to take charge of 100 tests when he blew the whistle for France v Italy in the Autumn Nations Cup in Paris on 28 November, 2020, 17 years after his test debut in February 2003 when he was in the middle for Portugal versus Georgia in Lisbon.
Owens refereed his 50th test on 24 November, 2012 when he took charge of Ireland v New Zealand in Dublin, and he surpassed Jonathan Kaplan as the most-capped referee with his 71st test on 11 June, 2016 when Fiji hosted Tonga in Suva.
Beaumont said: “Nigel has been a fantastic ambassador for rugby, both on and off the pitch, becoming one of the most recognisable and revered and celebrated individuals in the game over the past two decades.
“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.”
Owens, speaking in a Welsh Rugby Union video, said: “Nobody has a divine right to go on forever. There comes a time where it’s time to move on so the refereeing at a test match level will come to an end now. To go out on a hundred is a good time to go. Reaching a hundred caps is a milestone and something I’m proud of, but more importantly I’ve made my family and community proud as well. I wouldn’t change one thing, from travelling all over the world for the best part of the last 20 years to being involved in some of rugby’s greatest occasions.
“One of the most important values and ethos’ of rugby union is the value of respect. Rugby I believe upholds a tradition and value of respect better than any other sport in the world. There’s a lot of things that rugby needs to improve and do better, but one thing it certainly does lead on is inclusiveness, diversity, fair play and equality for all and that is something that I’m very proud to be part of in rugby.
Looking beyond this season, he added: “I certainly will be refereeing the community game, some junior clubs on a Sunday morning or school games or even club games to put something back because I think it’s hugely important when you are very fortunate to get so much out of something that you give something back in to it as well.”
Nigel Owens’ career in statistics:
Tests as referee: 100
Tests as assistant referee: 101
Tests as TMO: 9
Yellow cards: 59
Red cards: 3
First yellow card: Daisuke Ohata (Japan, v Ireland on 12 June, 2005)
First red card: Napolioni Nalaga (Pacific Islanders, v France on 15 November, 2008)
Tries scored in his 100 tests: 501 – every test has had at least one try scored in it
Points scored in his 100 tests: 4,632
Four Rugby World Cups
Rugby World Cup matches as referee: 19
Record-holder for most Six Nations matches as referee: 21
World Rugby Referee Award recipient in 2015
Number of teams refereed: 25 … from Argentina to Zimbabwe alphabetically
In chronological order: Portugal, Georgia, Japan, Ireland, Argentina, Samoa, Uruguay, Italy, Australia, Morocco, England, New Zealand, Scotland, Romania, Fiji, France, Pacific Islanders, South Africa, Russia, Canada, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Tonga, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Jamaica
Team refereed the most: New Zealand, 25 tests from 2007-19
Top five teams by Tests: New Zealand (25), England and France (24), Ireland (20), Australia (19)
Only 13 tests have not involved a Six Nations or Rugby Championship team