Welsh referee Nigel Owens retires after 100 rugby tests

CARDIFF, Wales (AP) — Welsh referee Nigel Owens announced his retirement from international rugby on Friday after 100 tests.

The 49-year-old Owens became the first ref to the milestone last month in the Autumn Nations Cup game between France and Italy in Paris.

His first test was 17 years ago. Renowned for his on-field quips and firm but empathetic control of matches, Owens was one of the most visible rugby figures in Japan last year at the most recent Rugby World Cup, his fourth. His face was all over advertisements, and he controlled five matches, including a quarterfinal and semifinal.

“Nobody has a divine right to go on forever,” Owens said in a statement released by the Welsh Rugby Union. “To go out on 100 is a good time to go.

“I am not going to be around for 2023 (World Cup). I don’t want to be. I still hope to referee in the Pro14 and locally in Wales this season, and maybe next season as well.

“I will certainly continue to referee in the community game, because when you are very fortunate to get so much out of something I think it’s hugely important that you give something back to it as well.

“I will also be going into a coaching role with the WRU, helping some of our talented, young referees.”

Owens began his test career in 2003 with a game between Portugal and Georgia. Highlights included the 2015 World Cup final between New Zealand and Australia at Twickenham, and the 2013 Rugby Championship match between New Zealand and South Africa at Ellis Park where the pace was so high that at the finish Owens was crippled by cramps.

He also assisted in 101 tests, and was a Television Match Official in nine more. He refereed a record 21 Six Nations matches, and 19 in the Rugby World Cup.

Owens came out as gay in 2007, and is an advocate of mental health services.

“It is important that we are all treated the same and that we are judged on our character and nothing else,” he said. “Not on the color of your skin, your sexuality, religious beliefs or wherever you come from.

“Those issues did hinder my life growing up and put me in a very dark place for quite a long period in my teens and early 20s, but I got a second chance, was allowed to be who I am, and I think it’s hugely important everyone gets that opportunity.”

World Rugby chairman Sir Bill Beaumont paid tribute to Owens.

“Nigel has been a fantastic ambassador for rugby, both on and off the pitch, becoming one of the most recognizable and revered and celebrated individuals in the game over the past two decades,” he said.

“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.

“Players, coaches and everyone involved in the international game will certainly miss his wonderful sense of humor and the positive attitude and unique spirit with which he applied himself to all 100 of his record-breaking test matches as a referee.”

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