One of the best Referees to ever bless the Union turf, Nigel Owens is not only hugely respected for his officiating capabilities, but as a friendly, humorous character outside of the sport. Loved for his interaction with players and witty comments, Owens is a YouTube sensation with every avid rugby fan. As tough as life can sometimes seem as an elite ref, Owens professionalism never fails to impress and I can safely say his work is admired by many, including several of my close friends!
Becoming a top-class Referee is a tough process, but highly rewarding if you do manage to hit the heights; travelling across the world, regularly interacting with greats in the game and possibly even guaranteeing a spot on a S4C! Nigel Owens, in my eyes, is one of the biggest role models for aspiring officials, and for that reason, having the opportunity to have a conversation with the man himself was a monumental privilege.
Before the interview, I really wanted to focus on just asking a couple of questions to the great man, centring around his hints and tips for aspiring referees and a few, quick anecdotes that will give a you an insight into the lifestyle of a pro.
I had a brief discussion with Nigel the afternoon of the Aviva Premiership Final, whilst he was on the M4 heading to Twickenham. He was kind enough to give me some pointers on how he achieved such a fabulous, yet tough position.
Firstly, Owens exclaimed to me how he got into refereeing, discussing how at the time of his childhood, refereeing was purely a hobby for those who had finished playing the sport, or had been permanently injured. Owens was 16, playing Full Back for his school, and they were yet to win a game all year, when, they had an opportunity to win a close game with a 2-pointer. Nigel said that he, as many would at that point, wanted to step up and be the hero, so insisted on taking the conversion. Unfortunately, he missed, but the story did end much more happily. Reminiscing about how his teacher told him to ‘go and referee will you!’, Owens took such advice and the season after, helped to referee house and school matches. It seemed like the fire was ignited there and then for Owens to go on to do greater things.
Endeavouring to outline how he believed nowadays, some wannabe referees believe it’s an easy route to stardom, Owens then went out to give some advice for those aspiring to follow in his footsteps, for the right reasons. ‘You have to enjoy it!’ stated Owens, ‘enjoying it is the most important thing. It takes a certain type of personality to be a top class referee.’ Continuing, he frequently repeated the term ‘passion’, stating that you are unlikely to succeed unless you have a real passion for the game itself.
Becoming a referee can be a challenge, yet being the best of the best, consistently, on an International level, is a completely different ball game. Therefore, I wanted to find out what really made Nigel tick before a game, and what sort of processes he underwent to ensure his performance remained at its peak. Strangely, Owens seemed to have minimal preparations or planning before a game, stating how he liked to ‘keep fit’ but only made a few notes that ‘focused on key areas’. No player profiling took place or further planning in regards to how he would act if certain situations appeared. So, evidently, pre-planning isn’t always vital, as we regularly see from Owen’s cool, calm and collected characteristics on the pitch.
Q. Best part when refereeing?
I think it’s great getting to be close to the action, and getting to see some great rugby. I was lucky enough to referee the match between South Africa and New Zealand at Soccer City, that was a fantastic experience. Although, the best part probably has to be making lots of new friends, you get to know lots of people on your travels and I’ve made plenty of friends for life.
Q. Worst part?
Quite simply, I think it’s the pressure you are under nowadays. The game is much speedier and sometimes making quick decisions can be tough. The pressure is massive, especially if you make a wrong decision.
Finally, on a lighter note, I was intrigued to know what Owens thought the opinions of fans, player and followers were of his personality. Dropping in the fact that he is probably the most viewed and loved referee on YouTube- ‘I never really wonder what people think of me, I just do my job. I don’t really plan to do or say anything, it just happens, us Welsh naturally have a good sense of humour and that’s probably why I say the stuff I do.’ He then added, ‘As long as I do my job well, I hope I earn respect from others.’
As a referee, I believe what sets him apart from others is his relaxed, consistent style of officiating the game. He always seems so natural and confident when in the middle, and for that reason, his reputation is mighty among fans and I’m certain, he is highly regarded by his peers. Best Northern Hemisphere Referee without doubt!
As a man, from my brief discussion, he is a passionate, nice and sociable guy who certainly goes out of his way to mingle with those on Twitter, or at Rugby Clubs, especially across Wales. A top bloke, I look forward to seeing him referee for the foreseeable future.
Many thanks to Nigel for his time, and from ‘In The Loose’, we wish you the best of luck for the future!