Nigel Owens bowed out of officiating international rugby after France’s Autumn Nations Cup match with Italy, after becoming the first referee to take charge of 100 tests.
However, that almost wasn’t the case, as Owens has revealed that some members of World Rugby’s refereeing panel didn’t want the Welshman’s career to continue after his 98th cap.
Owens was speaking on Paddy Power’s From The Horse’s Mouth podcast about the ordeal, explaining that he felt “hurt” by some members of the panel who didn’t want him to continue at test level.
— Nigel Owens MBE (@Nigelrefowens) July 3, 2019
“I was given England v France in the Six Nations and it was suggested to me then, by the powers that be, that I should finish then as they needed to appoint the next generation.
“They were asking me to do a very difficult thing, when I was still one of the top referees, not that numbers was a goal for me, but I was just two games away from 100.
“A couple of people didn’t want to appoint me, which was very disappointing – very disappointing to hear from one or two of the selectors. Thankfully, a couple of others said no, I was still one of the top referees. So I got to the 100.
“At that 98th game I wanted to get to 100. But at 89, 90 – I wasn’t thinking: ‘I’ll keep going to get to 100’. But to hear one or two people didn’t want to appoint me to get to 100, I was a bit hurt by that,” Owens said.
‘I chose my ending. I decided 100 and out’
While the 49-year old understood that World Rugby needed to bleed new referees for the next World Cup cycle, he felt he was confident he was still officiating at a high enough standard for international rugby.
“If I wasn’t reffing well enough I would have said: ‘No, don’t appoint me.’ I was ready to go, it was just when. Thankfully there were enough sensible people with enough respect for me to appoint me for those last two games.
“I would have been pretty hurt by that if it wasn’t the case. Jealousy is a terrible thing and you do wonder sometimes. But I was able to exit the game on my own terms – 100 and out.
“I chose my ending, I decided 100 and out. And I knew they needed to bring other referees through,” Owens said.
Despite hanging up his whistle on the international stage, rugby fans still have a chance to see Owens at his best for at least the remainder of the Guinness Pro14 season.