Nigel Owens

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Nigel Owens
Owens officiating a 2014 United Rugby Championship match
Birth nameNigel Owens
Date of birth (1971-06-18) 18 June 1971 (age 53)
Place of birthMynyddcerrig, Carmarthenshire, Wales
Occupation(s)Rugby union referee
Rugby union career
Refereeing career
Years Competition Apps
2001–2020 Challenge Cup 9
2002–2020 Heineken/Champions Cup 98
2002–2020 Pro14 149
2003–2020 Test matches 100
2007–2019 Rugby World Cup
2015 RWC finals 1
2019 RWC finals 3
Correct as of 19 October 2019

Nigel Owens, MBE (born 18 June 1971) is a Welsh former international rugby union referee, who retired in December 2020 after a 17-year career. He previously held the world record for the most test matches refereed[1] and is one of five international referees listed as professional within the Welsh Rugby Union, alongside Craig Evans, Adam Jones, Dan Jones and Ben Whitehouse.[2] He is widely considered to be one of the greatest rugby referees of all time.

Owens is also known as a television personality, as one of the presenters of the S4C Welsh language chat shows Jonathan and Bwrw'r Bar ('Hitting the Bar'). Owens also hosts his own quiz programme Munud i Fynd ('A Minute to Go'). At the 2011 Eisteddfod Genelaethol, he was made a member of the Gorsedd of Bards.

Early life[edit]

Owens was born and raised in the village of Mynyddcerrig, near Cross Hands in Carmarthenshire, Wales. He is a fluent Welsh speaker. He was a school technician at Ysgol Gyfun Maes-yr-Yrfa [cy] in Llanelli, the same school attended by Welsh international Dwayne Peel, and was a youth worker with Menter Cwm Gwendraeth. Before that he worked on a farm, for over a year, as a farmhand.[3]

Refereeing career[edit]

Owens started refereeing in 1987, after his sports teacher John Beynon suggested he take up refereeing after a school game. His first game was an under-15s match between Carmarthen and Pembrokeshire at the age of 16.

Owens made his European debut during the 2000–01 European Challenge Cup season, refereeing London Irish and Piacenza on 21 January 2001. In October 2001, Owens was one of the first three Welsh Rugby Union professional referees.[4] He made his debut in Europe's Heineken Cup, refereeing Calvisano and Perpignan, on 12 January 2002. Owens made his Celtic League debut on 30 August 2002, refereeing Border Reivers and Connacht.

Owens was a regular referee on the International Rugby Board World Sevens Series circuit between 2002 and 2005.[5] On 16 February 2003, Owens had his first 15-a-side international appointment, refereeing the second-tier match Portugal v Georgia during the 2003–04 European Nations Cup First Division. In 2005, Owens earned his first International Rugby Board appointment, when he was appointed to the first test of the Irish tour of Japan in Osaka.[6] During the 2005/06 season, Owens became a regular appointment at both Celtic League and Heineken Cup level, making six appearances during the 2005–06 Heineken Cup.

Owens was appointed to his first play-off/knock-out rugby match on 23 April 2006, when he refereed the 2005–06 European Challenge Cup semi-final between Newcastle Falcons and London Irish. During the 2006–07 European Challenge Cup, he refereed a semi-final and the final. He also refereed the 2006–07 Heineken Cup quarter-final between London Wasps and Leinster on 31 March 2007. That same year, he refereed his first Six Nations Championship game, England v Italy, and his first Tri Nations game, New Zealand v Australia. On 11 September 2007, Owens made his Rugby World Cup debut in the match between Argentina and Georgia in Lyon, France. He was the only Welsh referee during the 2007 Rugby World Cup, where he refereed three pool-stage matches.[7]

Owens refereed in all six rounds of the 2007–08 Heineken Cup pool stage and was appointed to a quarter-final, semi-final and the final, becoming the third Welsh referee to referee a Heineken Cup final.[8] The following year he refereed nine games, including a quarter-final (the infamous Bloodgate game),[9] semi-final and the final, becoming the third referee to referee a Heineken Cup final more than once and the second to referee two consecutive Heineken Cup finals.[10] On 16 June 2009, as part of the 2009 British & Irish Lions tour to South Africa, Owens refereed the match between the Lions and the Southern Kings.[11]

During the 2010/11 season, Owens was appointed to three play-off/knock-out matches; 2010–11 Heineken Cup quarter-final, 2010–11 European Challenge Cup semi-final and the 2011 Celtic League Grand Final. He later officiated at the 2011 Rugby World Cup, which included an appointment to a quarter-final match, New Zealand v Argentina. He was also appointed to the 2011 Rugby World Cup final as one of the assistant referees.[12]

Owens refereed his third Heineken Cup final at the 2012 Heineken Cup final between Leinster and Ulster.[13]

In 2013, Owens refereed his 100th Pro12 game and became the most-appointed Welsh referee at international level, overtaking Derek Bevan. During the 2014–15 European Rugby Champions Cup he became the most-appointed referee at European Rugby Champions Cup/Heineken Cup level with 80 appointments, overtaking Alain Rolland. He also officiated at that season's final between Clermont and Toulon, before refereeing the 2015 Pro12 Grand Final.[14] The 2015 Pro12 final was his third time refereeing the Pro12 final, having refereed the 2011 and 2014 Pro12 Grand Final.[15]

Owens was on the 12-man referee panel for the 2015 Rugby World Cup where he was appointed to three pool stage matches, including the France v Ireland clash at the Millennium Stadium, which was the first time Owens refereed an international match at the Welsh home stadium.[16] Owens refereed two more World Cup tests, one of which was the 2015 Rugby World Cup final between New Zealand and Australia.[17] He became the second Welsh referee to referee a World Cup final, after Derek Bevan took charge of the 1991 Rugby World Cup final. Owens won the World Rugby Referee Award at the 2015 World Rugby Awards.[18]

On 3 November 2015, he announced that he intended to keep refereeing international rugby for another four years.[19]

On 5 March 2016, Owens launched the 2019 Rugby World Cup qualifying process, refereeing the first qualification match, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines v Jamaica in Arnos Vale.[20] Later that year, Owens became the most-capped rugby referee when he took charge of the Fiji-Tonga clash in Suva, overtaking Jonathan Kaplan's record of 70 tests.[21]

On 15 April 2017, Owens made his 150th Pro12 appearance when he took charge of the Judgement Day clash between Newport Gwent Dragons and Scarlets.[22] On 28 November 2020, Owens refereed his 100th international match in the Autumn Nations Cup game between France and Italy, becoming the first referee to reach the landmark. Two weeks later, he announced his immediate retirement from international duty, saying "Nobody has a divine right to go on forever," but expressed a desire to continue refereeing club matches in the Pro14 and at club level in Wales.[23]

Outside rugby[edit]

Owens is one of the presenters of the S4C Welsh language chat shows Jonathan and Bwrw'r Bar ("Hitting the Bar").[24][25] Owens also hosts his own quiz programme Munud i Fynd ("A Minute to Go").[26]

Owens has a cattle farm in his home village, Mynyddcerrig.[27] In January 2021, he was featured on the BBC agricultural programme Countryfile.[28]

His autobiography, Hanner Amser ("Half Time"), was published in Welsh in 2008, then in English in 2009.[29][30] On 24 July 2017, Owens presented a Panorama documentary about men and eating disorders. In it, he opened up about his own experiences with bulimia and how it has affected his life, highlighting his refereeing of the Rugby World Cup as a significant trigger.[31]

In February 2017, Owens was the castaway on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs,[32] during which he discussed his sexuality with presenter Kirsty Young.[33]

On 25 March 2021 Owens was a panellist on BBC's Question Time. When asked about the flying of the Union Jack on public buildings, he said that the flag "should not be mandated on anybody" and suggested "if you force issues on people then you are going to have people rebel against it."[34]

In February 2022, Owens was named as a commentator for S4C in the 2022 Six Nations Championship.[35]

Owens appears in the mid-morning BBC Radio 5 Live programme by Scott Mills and Chris Stark. In "Real Life TMO", he referees on domestic and trivial arguments presented by listeners.[citation needed]

Personal life[edit]

In May 2007, Owens publicly came out as gay in an interview with Wales on Sunday. Reaction was mostly supportive.[36] Owens said that coming out was a difficult decision, and that he had contemplated suicide when he was 26.[37]

It's such a big taboo to be gay in my line of work, I had to think very hard about it because I didn't want to jeopardise my career. Coming out was very difficult and I tried to live with who I really was for years. I knew I was 'different' from my late teens, but I was just living a lie.[37]

Shortly after the 2007 Rugby World Cup, Owens was named 'Gay Sports Personality of the Year' at gay rights group Stonewall's awards ceremony in London.[38] He was a patron of the LGBT Centre of Excellence Wales, until its disbandment in late 2012, but he is still patron of the Wooden Spoon Society rugby charity. In 2013 Owens became a patron of Bullies Out charity in Wales.[39] Owens was subjected to racist and anti-gay abuse when refereeing England and New Zealand in November 2014.[40] This was reported by a fan and resulted in the two spectators responsible being banned from Twickenham for two years.[41] In 2015, Owens was named 'Gay Sports Personality of the Decade' at Stonewall awards ceremony in London.[42] He was named on the 2017 Pinc List of leading Welsh LGBT figures.[43] In a 2019 interview with Wales Online, he admitted he once ordered a date to hide in the toilets at Pizza Hut when Wales international Dwayne Peel and his girlfriend walked in. In Dublin, for the launch of Europe's largest LGBT+ inclusive rugby tournament, Owens was speaking about his own experiences and the difficulty of coming out as gay while working in sport.[44]

In 2011 he was made a member of the Gorsedd of Bards.[45][46] In the 2016 Birthday Honours, Owens was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for services to sport,[47] and was awarded an honorary fellowship from Cardiff University in July of the same year.[3] Owens has served as secretary, chairman and president of the Wales Federation of Young Farmers Clubs[48] and is a fan of Wrexham Football Club.[49]

His long-term partner is Barrie Jones-Davies, a primary school teacher from Llandovery. In October 2019, Jones-Davies joined Owens in Tokyo to support him during the Rugby World Cup.[50]


  1. ^ "Wales v New Zealand referee Wayne Barnes: His 100th match, the 'f***ing cheat' incident and a fine career". Wales Online. 5 November 2022. Retrieved 24 October 2023.
  2. ^ "International Referees". Welsh Rugby Union | Wales & Regions. Retrieved 19 January 2021.
  3. ^ a b Di Cara, Nina (15 July 2016). "Honorary Fellow: Nigel Owens MBE". Retrieved 5 February 2017.
  4. ^ WalesOnline (31 October 2001). "Professional refs". Retrieved 18 April 2017.
  5. ^ "Rugby365 Craig Joubert: Beyond the field". Retrieved 18 April 2017.
  6. ^ "Nigel Owens – Personally Speaking Bureau". Retrieved 5 August 2016.
  7. ^ "Welsh ref Owens on World Cup list". icWales. 27 April 2007. Archived from the original on 16 March 2008. Retrieved 20 September 2015.
  8. ^ "EPCR - European Professional Club Rugby". Retrieved 18 April 2017.
  9. ^ "'Bloodgate' referee Nigel Owens regrets not checking Harlequins' Tom Williams". 7 October 2009. Retrieved 18 April 2017.
  10. ^ "NIGEL OWENS TO REFEREE HEINEKEN CUP FINAL". Retrieved 18 April 2017.
  11. ^ "IRB confirm referees for Lions tour". Retrieved 18 April 2017.
  12. ^ "Craig Joubert to take charge of World Cup final - Rugby World". 17 October 2011. Retrieved 18 April 2017.
  13. ^ "Nigel Owens to referee Heineken Cup final - Rugby Week - Rugby News, Rugby Video & Fixtures". 8 May 2012. Retrieved 18 April 2017.
  14. ^ Bywater, Alex (21 April 2015). "Welsh referee Nigel Owens to take charge of European Champions Cup final". Retrieved 18 April 2017.
  15. ^ Southcombe, Matthew (25 May 2015). "Nigel Owens to referee of Guinness Pro12 final". Retrieved 18 April 2017.
  16. ^ "Match officials announced for Rugby World Cup 2015". Retrieved 18 April 2017.
  17. ^ "Rugby World Cup: Nigel Owens confirmed as final referee". 26 October 2015. Retrieved 18 April 2017.
  18. ^ Rogers, Gareth (2 November 2015). "Nigel Owens wins World Rugby Referee Award at post-World Cup ceremony". Retrieved 18 April 2017.
  19. ^ "Nigel Owens: World Cup final referee to continue until 2019 - BBC Sport". 3 November 2015. Retrieved 5 November 2015.
  20. ^ "Rugby World Cup 2019: Nigel Owens to referee first qualifier". 1 March 2016. Retrieved 18 April 2017.
  21. ^ Abbandonato, Paul (10 June 2016). "Nigel Owens becomes rugby world record-breaker as he takes charge of 71st Test". Retrieved 18 April 2017.
  22. ^ "Nigel Owens to make 150th Championship Appearance". 11 April 2017. Retrieved 6 April 2018.
  23. ^ "Nigel Owens: Referee announces retirement after 100 Test matches". The Independent. 11 December 2020. Archived from the original on 20 June 2022. Retrieved 11 December 2020.
  24. ^ "S4C Sport - Nigel Owens". Retrieved 6 April 2018.
  25. ^ WalesOnline (29 May 2009). "Bwrw'r Bar". Retrieved 6 April 2018.
  26. ^ "Munud i Fynd - BBC - S4C". BBC. Retrieved 6 April 2018.
  27. ^ Hill, Owen (12 August 2020). "Top rugby referee Nigel Owens kicks off his farming venture". Farmers Weekly.
  28. ^ "Countryfile". 17 January 2021. Retrieved 17 January 2021.
  29. ^ "Hanner Amser - Hunangofiant Nigel Owens" [Half Time - Nigel Owens autobiography]. 29 March 2013. Retrieved 18 April 2017.
  30. ^ "Hanner Amser by Nigel Owens, published by Y Lolfa". Retrieved 18 April 2017.
  31. ^ "Men, Boys & Eating Disorders". BBC iPlayer. BBC. Retrieved 30 November 2019.
  32. ^ Presenter: Kirsty Young Producer: Paula McGinley (5 February 2017). "Nigel Owens". Desert Island Discs. BBC. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 5 February 2017.
  33. ^ "Rugby ref Nigel Owens asked to be chemically castrated". BBC News Online. BBC. 4 February 2017. Retrieved 5 February 2017.
  34. ^ "Question Time - 2021: 25/03/2021". BBC Iplayer.
  35. ^ "Six Nations star-studded pundits line-ups revealed as ITV get twice as many games as BBC". WalesOnline. February 2022.
  36. ^ "Nigel Owens offers advice to the football referee who has retired after suffering homophobic abuse". Off the Ball. Archived from the original on 4 January 2023. Retrieved 4 January 2023.
  37. ^ a b Bevan, Nathan (20 May 2007). "Ref's gay torment". Wales on Sunday. Archived from the original on 27 May 2008. Retrieved 16 July 2007.
  38. ^ "World Cup rugby ref's gay award". BBC News. British Broadcasting Corporation. 2 November 2007. Retrieved 20 May 2010.
  39. ^ Owens, Nigel (3 July 2014). "Nigel Owens: Football and rugby could benefit from one captain's challenge per match...and why Luis Suarez MUST issue a sincere apology". Wales Online. Media Wales. Retrieved 7 March 2015.
  40. ^ Wilson, Keith (8 November 2014). "Shamed by bigoted England rugby fans at All Blacks game". Retrieved 5 February 2017.
  41. ^ "Two given Twickenham ban for homophobic abuse of referee Nigel Owens during England v New Zealand". 28 November 2014. Retrieved 5 February 2017.
  42. ^ "Ref Nigel Owens is Stonewall's sportsperson of decade". 6 November 2015. Retrieved 5 February 2017.
  43. ^ "Pinc List 2017". Wales Online. 19 August 2017.
  44. ^ Sands, Katie (9 April 2019). "The night Nigel Owens hid his date from Wales rugby star in a toilet". walesonline. Retrieved 24 February 2020.
  45. ^ "Gorsedd honour for Gillian Clarke and Nigel Owens". BBC News. British Broadcasting Corporation. 8 June 2011. Retrieved 11 June 2011.
  46. ^ Pickup, Oliver (13 November 2014). "Nigel Owens target of homophobia: 12 things you might not have known about the Welsh international referee". The Telegraph. Retrieved 20 September 2015.
  47. ^ "No. 61608". The London Gazette (Supplement). 11 June 2016. p. B22.
  48. ^ "Rugby ref Nigel takes over as YFC president". Wales Online. Media Wales. 22 September 2009. Retrieved 20 September 2015.
  49. ^ Owens, Nigel (11 June 2014). "Nigel Owens column: FIFA must stamp down on play-acting at Brazil 2014 or it could filter into rugby too". Wales Online. Media Wales. Retrieved 20 September 2015.
  50. ^ Fletcher, Martin (16 November 2019). "Nigel Owens: 'Reffing a World Cup final was nothing compared to the challenge of accepting my sexuality and coming out'". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 24 February 2020.

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