Welsh match official Nigel Owens will take charge of his 71st test match when he runs out for Fiji v Tonga in Suva on 11 June and in the process will become the most experienced international referee of all time, taking over from Jonathan Kaplan of South Africa, who refereed 70 tests during his career.
Since making his test debut in 2003 when Portugal beat Georgia 34-30 in Lisbon, Owens has developed into one of the most respected match officials in the game’s history. From Cardiff to Christchurch and from Krasnoyarsk in Siberia to Kingstown in St Vincent, he has travelled the world with his boots and whistle for the past 13 years.
In that time he has taken charge of 16 Six Nations matches and 12 in The Rugby Championship (formerly the Tri-Nations) as well as three European Cup finals and, the biggest one of them all, the Rugby World Cup final between New Zealand and Australia at Twickenham last October.
Owens said: “It’s an honour to be appointed to this important match and I will prepare in the same way as I always do. Indeed, every time I take the field as a referee it is an honour and even more so when it’s a test match. I don’t think anyone goes into refereeing in order to break records like this but I suppose what it says is that I’ve managed to stay at the top level of the game for a while now so there is a lot of satisfaction and pride that comes with that.
“Reffing the Rugby World Cup final was a wonderful experience and one that I will treasure forever but every match is memorable in its own way and I am really looking forward to this next challenge in Fiji, where I have never refereed before. I have been fortunate to have so many people supporting me along the way – friends, family and other past and present referees as well as the WRU and World Rugby. It has been a hugely rewarding and enjoyable journey so far and I hope to keep going for some time to come.”
Chairman of the Match Officials Selection Panel John Jeffrey said: “I would like to congratulate Nigel on reaching this milestone. Over many years, he has shown himself to be one of the best referees in the world and he is a great servant to the game. While the highlight of his career so far was taking charge of the Rugby World Cup 2015 final, he always applies the same high standards to every game that he referees. His longevity at the top level of rugby is a testament to his ability, dedication, hard work and perseverance, and I wish him all the best for this record-breaking match.”
Owens is one of 26 referees who have been appointed to matches during the upcoming internationals, which get underway on 29 May when England play Wales at Twickenham. Italy’s Marius Mitrea has been appointed to that one and he is one of four officials to have been awarded two tests in the latest round of selection, the others being Owens, Wayne Barnes of England, and New Zealand’s Ben O’Keeffe.
The matches include an unprecedented number of tier two fixtures, a number of tier one v tier two games and the World Rugby Nations Cup in Bucharest.