Referee Nigel Owens has announced his retirement from the international game after officiating 100 Test matches.
Welshman Owens, 49, became the first rugby union referee to reach that figure when he took charge of the Autumn Nations Cup game between France and Italy in Paris last month.
And he has now decided to bring down the curtain with immediate effect on a Test career that began 17 years ago, the highlight of which was taking charge of the 2015 World Cup final between New Zealand and Australia at Twickenham.
Nigel Owens shakes hands with Stephen Varney after the last game of his international career
The highlight of Owens’ career was refereeing the 2015 Rugby World Cup final at Twickenham
‘Nobody has a divine right to go on forever,’ Owens said, in a statement released by the Welsh Rugby Union.
‘There comes a time where it is time to move on, so international refereeing will come to an end now. That France versus Italy game was my last Test match. To go out on 100 is a good time to go.
‘I am not going to be around for 2023 (World Cup). I don’t want to be. I still hope to referee in the PRO 14 and locally in Wales this season, and maybe next season as well.
‘I will certainly continue to referee in the community game, because when you are very fortunate to get so much out of something I think it’s hugely important that you give something back to it as well.
‘I will also be going into a coaching role with the WRU, helping some of our talented, young referees we have here in Wales, so that is something I am quite excited about.’
Reflecting on his Test career, which began with a game between Portugal and Georgia in 2003, Owens added: ‘I haven’t refereed in order to reach milestones, but obviously when those milestones happen like when you get your first cap, it is something special.
Owens was known beyond the sport for his forthright and humorous approach with players
‘When I got my 50th cap out in Dublin it was Brian O’Driscoll’s last international game in Ireland, so that was quite a special occasion, and then obviously as the years go by you aim to go to a Rugby World Cup, then another one.
‘After the 2019 World Cup, going into the Six Nations, I probably was looking then to call it a day around that time, and all of a sudden you are on 98 Test matches.
‘Thankfully, I got another two games and reached that milestone, so it is something I am proud of. But more importantly, I made my family and community proud, which I think is more important.’
Sir Bill Beaumont was re-elected World Rugby chairman in May and has paid tribute to Owens
World Rugby chairman Sir Bill Beaumont paid tribute to Owens.
‘Nigel has been a fantastic ambassador for rugby, both on and off the pitch, becoming one of the most recognisable and revered and celebrated individuals in the game over the past two decades,’ he said.
Owens runs a farm with his partner Barrie Jones-Davies in the Gwendraeth Valley
‘What makes Nigel so special is not only his exemplary international refereeing career, but also his contribution to the game and society as a role model of rugby’s unique values of integrity, passion, solidarity, discipline and respect.
‘On behalf of World Rugby, I would like to thank Nigel for his incredible dedication, commitment, passion and love for the game.
‘Players, coaches and everyone involved in the international game will certainly miss his wonderful sense of humour and the positive attitude and unique spirit with which he applied himself to all 100 of his record-breaking Test matches as a referee.’
Owens won’t be at the 2023 Rugby World Cup but hopes to officiate PRO14 games this season
Owens came out as gay in 2007, and speaking on inclusion in rugby, he said: ‘It is important that we are all treated the same and that we are judged on our character and nothing else. Not on the colour of your skin, your sexuality, religious beliefs or wherever you come from.
‘Those issues did hinder my life growing up and put me in a very dark place for quite a long period in my teens and early 20s, but I got a second chance, was allowed to be who I am and I think it’s hugely important everyone gets that opportunity.’