Nigel Owens has postponed retirement from top flight refereeing and admits he could stay in the game for another two years with the COVID-19 enforced lay-off allowing him to “recharge my batteries, physically and mentally.”
Owens, 48-years-old, has taken charge of 76 tests and admits it will be up to World Rugby to decide if he returns to the international arena having announced he was quitting after the Rugby World Cup in Japan. Given the likely log-jam of test , European and domestic matches that will are likely to be played at the end of this year, he could be very busy at whatever level he is allowed to officiate. “Well, having had phone conversations with the Welsh Rugby Union, they would like me to continue refereeing… and I’ve told them I would like to carry on as well:” he revealed in is WalesOnline column. “So I will be continuing to do just that next season – that’s for sure. When next season actually starts, nobody knows. But I’ve made a decision that I won’t be finishing at the end of this season, whenever that ends too.
“I will be refereeing for at least one more year, maybe another after that as well. Whether that’s at international level, we just don’t know. That will be up to World Rugby, if they still want me. Hopefully they will. But I will carry on at domestic and European level at least – which ends the uncertainty in my own mind – and if I referee well in those games, hopefully the Tests will follow.
“With the uncertainty surrounding sport at the moment, it would have been a very odd time to call it a day. And although it’s not the whole reason I want to carry on, I have to admit that deep down it is part of my thought process. I can’t finish like this. It’s nice to know when you are actually finishing after a long career, do it naturally. To know this is your last game, enjoy the nostalgia and the emotions that come with that.”
Owens insists he still has not only the hunger to take control of big matches but also the fitness that is now needed to be a top flight official. He added: “Not knowing whether I’ve done my last game, or when that might happen if the season recommences, just creates that unsatisfactory uncertainty I talk of. That said, the main reasons why I’m not finishing just yet are twofold.
“One is that my body is still fit enough. That is hugely important, of course, ensuring I can keep up with the action and be there to spot things on the field and make key decisions. The other is that I’m still enjoying it and feel I’m still at the top of my game.
“I’ve been told by many people who have hung up their boots – be that past referees or indeed some players – that you really will miss it when you call it a day. So if you don’t need to finish, because your body is fine and your performance levels are good, then keep on refereeing, they tell me.
“I’ve noted from the beginning of August 2019 to when I did the semi-final of the World Cup between England and New Zealand, I’d actually refereed 11 Test matches in that period. None of the other referees had done that many, particularly someone at my stage of their career.
“Let me make it clear, I was privileged to have been chosen so often and wouldn’t have it any other way. It was an honour for me to do every single one of those matches. But that amount of rugby, particularly in today’s fast-moving game, does take a toll on your body and the workload was what probably contributed to the calf injury I picked up in the semi-final of the World Cup.
“Though I’ve not been on the field as much at domestic level, I’ve still had to train and travel doing stuff with my job. Including going to our referee training camps, where we meet up every so often to discuss what is working, what isn’t, and what we might need to do as a team of referees to put things right next time. So in one sense I’ve taken advantage of a really bad situation with the coronavirus crisis to recharge the body and mind.
“World Rugby would probably have been putting out appointments for the summer schedule around this point, although there is obviously uncertainty about whether the matches will go ahead. I will have to wait and see. As nothing has yet been officially called off, so it may be appointments of referees will continue.”