Wed, Oct 28, 2015 - Page 18 News List

Nigel Owens to referee Rugby World Cup Final

AFP, LONDON

Wales’ Nigel Owens said he was “humbled” to be chosen to referee Saturday’s Rugby World Cup final between New Zealand and Australia.

It is to be the first final for the 44-year-old veteran of 67 Tests, who is to be assisted by France’s Jerome Garces and England’s Wayne Barnes, the referees from last weekend’s semi-finals.

Owens was one of the first top figures in the world of rugby to announce he is gay in 2007.

“This is a huge honor and a privilege for me. I am humbled to have been chosen to referee the Rugby World Cup final,” Owens said. “This is my third World Cup and I think it has been the best.”

“It has been inspirational. The quality of rugby on display has been incredible in front of packed venues, and so to be given the opportunity to referee the final match between the best two teams in the tournament is an amazing honor,” Owens added.

Owens is the second Welshman to referee the Rugby World Cup final after Derek Bevan, who controlled the 1991 final that saw Australia beat hosts England.

Owens came out with one of the remarks of the tournament when he said: “If you want to dive like that again, come back here in two weeks and play, not today” to Scotland fullback Stuart Hogg when he was punished for diving at English soccer club Newcastle United’s ground.

Rugby fans loved the dig at the reputation of rival soccer players for diving.

Owens said he was delighted that his father would see his son had achieved the greatest accolade a rugby referee could receive.

Owens said that being named for Saturday’s final was extra special because of difficult moments he had experienced.

Owens in 2007 told the Wales on Sunday newspaper that he had contemplated suicide because of how hard it would be to tell his parents of his homosexuality, as he was their only child.

Last year he said he was the target of homophobic abuse from spectators at an England-New Zealand Test. Two supporters were later banned from Twickenham for two years and ordered to pay a cash sum to a charity chosen by Owens.

“I want to thank my friends and family for their ongoing support and for helping me through some rough times in my life,” Owens said on Monday.

“My dad, in particular, is always there for me and is delighted with this news — it’s just a shame my mother is not here to see this as she was a pillar of strength for me,” Owens said.

“She passed away six years ago, and I know she would have been very proud,” he added.

While he was criticized by France coach Philippe Saint-Andre for not seeing a punch that Ireland flanker Sean O’Brien delivered to lock Pascal Pape in a pool game, Owens received glowing praise from former All Black great and now selector Grant Fox.

“Nigel is clearly the best referee in the world — he’s demonstrated that,” Fox told New Zealand radio station Newstalk ZB on Saturday.

“One of the key things he does, apart from communicating incredibly well with the players, is that he lets the breakdown breathe, and that is really important,” Fox added.

Ireland’s John Lacey has been appointed the referee of Friday’s third-place match between two-time world champions South Africa and Argentina.

He is to be assisted by New Zealand duo Glen Jackson and Chris Pollock.

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