Welsh referee Nigel Owens to retire from international rugby

Nigel Owens
Nigel Owen's last international test match was his 100th in charge. Credit: PA images.

Welsh refereeing legend Nigel Owens MBE has announced his immediate retirement from international rugby.

Owens, the most-capped referee in world rugby, announced that he would be retiring after a 17-year career and 100 test matches.

Speaking of his decision he said that "nobody has a divine right to go on forever."

Nigel Owens took control of the 2015 Rugby World Cup Final match between Australia and New Zealand. Credit: PA images.

His final game in charge was last month's match between France and Italy in the Autumn Nations Cup.

Known for his witty sense of humour and his strong performances with the whistle, he quickly became widely-respected in the sport after his international debut officiating Portugal v Georgia in February 2003.

He was appointed an MBE in the Queen's birthday honours in 2016 for his services to sport.

"Owens has quite rightly given the position of an official the limelight it deserves" - ITV Wales' sports reporter Beth Fisher analysis following the announcement.

As sport has become more professional over the last couple of decades, in my opinion, the amount of characters in it have become far less. But what do I mean by characters? Well, someone who commands an audience both on and off the pitch, but can raise their head above the parapet and is willing to do it “their way”.

In Nigel Owens, we have a character and a half. His on field manner and standard of refereeing is why he has become a firm favourite with players and fans all over the world.

His quick witted replies and sense of humour wouldn’t be out of place in a cosy pub when you’re having a laugh with your mates over a pint and a bag of crisps. He’s quite rightly given the position of an official the limelight it deserves, because let’s face it - no team sport can play without one. 

He’s passionate, humble, humorous and fair. In my eyes - the perfect recipe for a referee. 

Few, if anyone, has been able to turn the view of a referee from pantomime villain to Prince Charming and he absolutely deserves to be centre stage to a standing ovation for what he has achieved on the pitch. 

And off the pitch he said that it was rugby, and the people in the sport, that saved his life when he came out as gay in 2007. In doing so, he became a role model to many - and I have no doubt that his vocal support for the LGBT+ community will have helped many others around the world deal with their own battles too. 

So, diolch yn fawr Nigel. You’ll go down as one of the greatest.

Nigel Owens' last international test match in the middle was France vs Italy in November. Credit: PA images.

Speaking on his retirement Owens said that that it was "time to move on".

"There comes a time where it’s time to move on so international refereeing will come to end now, that France vs Italy game was my last Test match. To go out on 100 is a good time to go," he said.

"After the 2019 World Cup, going into the Six Nations, I probably was looking then to call it a day around that time and all of a sudden you’re on 98 Test matches.

"Thankfully I got another two games and reached that milestone so it is something I’m proud of but more importantly I made my family and community proud.

“I’m sure it’s something I will appreciate more when I’ve got time to think about it – maybe I’ll even watch the 2015 Rugby World Cup final one day!"

Nigel Owens was known for his sense of humour on the pitch as a referee. Credit: PA images.

“On a serious note, I think it’s important to set goals, but realistic ones – to take each step and a time and then set a new one," he continued.

“Along with refereeing the world cup final, great internationals like the South Africa v New Zealand game in 2013, and other memorable occasions like the seven Champions Cup finals and two Challenge Cup finals, there are many other memories too. One that sticks out was being asked to referee Pencoed under 12s v Cwmbran.

“I turned up the morning after refereeing a Heineken Cup match at Leicester. I’d met the team previously so they gave me a great reception when I arrived but one player in the corner of the changing room said, ‘I hope you’re going to ref this match better than yesterday’s’! I just thought, this is what rugby’s all about and that will always stay in my memory along with many other times.”

Watch Nigel Owens review some of the moments from his career with fellow referee Derek Bevan.

Despite retiring from international rugby the referee maestro has said that he still plans to be in the middle for the Pro 14 and in Wales over the next two seasons.

Looking back on his career Owens said that the questions people regularly asked him during his time with the whistle was whether he would want Wales to be in the Rugby World Cup Final if it meant he was then demoted from refereeing.

“It’s a very easy question – seeing my country in the final," he said.

"We were so close to getting there in 2011 and 2015 too. Your country always comes first whatever sport you play but the next best thing I suppose was to get to referee there and it was a privilege and honour to represent my country, my community and everyone involved in refereeing and Welsh rugby on that stage."