Welsh referee Nigel Owens has confirmed that he was told prior to the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan that he would not be officiating unless his performances improved.
Owens refereed games throughout the pool stages and also took charge of the quarter-final between New Zealand and Ireland, and the semi-final between New Zealand and England.
However, it could have been a lot different for the veteran referee who has revealed that due to some poor performances, he was told that he wouldn’t be selected as part of the World Cup refereeing panel unless he made improvements to his game.
Owens was writing about Alain Rolland, the former Irish referee who has recently stepped down as World Rugby’s High-Performance referee manager, in his column for WalesOnline.
“So let me let you into another little secret,” Owens wrote.
“Ahead of the appointments for last year’s World Cup, Rollars [Alain Rolland] pulled me to one side and told me a couple of my more recent performances were not up to my usual standard.
“And he was right.
“‘Nige, you need to get back to your best, I’m not going to recommend you for the World Cup unless I’m convinced you’re still good enough to do knockout games’.
“Basically, he was saying he could take a more inexperienced official to referee the pool matches if necessary so they could get experience ahead of the 2023 tournament. He expected more from a senior figure like me. This was to be my fourth World Cup and I certainly wasn’t going there just to referee a couple of pool games.
“I told Rollars that he didn’t actually need to tell me if I was good enough or not, I would know if I had started to consistently slip below the high standards I set and expect of myself.
“But I suppose every one of us needs that pep talk at some stage, whatever job we do. And this was my kick up the backside again – just like after that 2014 game.”
The 2014 game which Owens references is a clash between Australia and Argentina. Owens performed poorly in that game which led to then referee manager Joel Jutge to provide the Welsh man with a similar warning in relation to his prospects at the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
Of course, Owens would go on to referee the final between Australia and New Zealand in 2015. In the most recent instance in the build-up to the 2019 Rugby World Cup, Owens improved his game which resulted in him refereeing at the semi-final stage.
“I resolved there and then to get back to my previous level and to make it as difficult as possible for Rollars and his selection team not only to leave me out of the knockout games, but also not to consider me for the final itself, even though I had done it previously.
“I knuckled down, ended up getting the big semi-final between New Zealand and England – which some pundits were saying was the best match at the tournament. It meant I was also one of the names on a piece of paper of the referees who could potentially do the final.”