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07th Dec 2021

Nigel Owens on the best and worst players to referee

Patrick McCarry


“That’s a very good question, and a very difficult one to answer… “

‘Who were the best and worst players to referee?’ Nigel Owens gave this one some thought before he dived on in.

The Welsh referee has stepped down from officiating at Test level in 2020 and last oversaw a professional club game in March of this year. The last time he was out on a pitch as a ref was for a centenary match between Trimsaran and Llanelli.

Owens has his hands full on his farm, but still finds time to do some punditry work and video features with the likes of the BBC, Amazon Prime and World Rugby.

Our very own Alex Roberts caught up with Owens and found him in great form as he discussed nightmare players, life after refereeing and law changes he would love to see in the game.

Nigel Owens on Ireland players pestering him

“Rugby is a game for all sizes,” Owens reflects. “You have your biggest up front, all the way down to your 9s, who are usually the smallest, and most talkative!”

“They’ve all been pretty good to referee, to be honest,” he says.

“You tend to find that when you were reffing Ronan O’Gara and Peter Stringer together, well, you had your work cut out!

“And then Johnny Sexton’s not much better, and Dan Biggar here in Wales.

“Joe Marler, then, is always trying to be funny on the field, in a nice way. You’re trying to tell yourself to be serious and he’d wink at you.”

“I don’t think there’s anybody that would be the worst,” Owens adds, “but the scrum-halves are usually the most difficult to deal with. Them and the out-halves are the most chirpiest.”

Joe Marler applauds fans at Twickenham after England’s recent win over South Africa. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Owens praise for Shane Williams

Nigel Owens praises France star Antoine Dupont for breaking the ‘chirpy scrum-half’ mould while singling out former Wales and Lions captain Sam Warburton as the most respectful captain to deal with.

In terms of best players he ever had the chance to be on the pitch with, and see in full flow, Owens went for compatriot Shane Williams.

“He’s a small guy, but he had such skill,” he says. “When you were reffing the game and he got the ball, you felt this whoosh of anticipation – what’s going to happen next? Bryan Habana was another one like that.”

While also name-checking backs Dan Carter and Brian O’Discoll, he gives some love to forwards like Carl Hayman, Paul O’Connell, Ali Williams, Bakkies Botha, Richie McCaw and the “brutal” Schalk Burger.