Nigel Owens’ “Little Secret” That Saw Him Nearly Left Out Of The Rugby World Cup

Little secret.

Former World Referee of the Year, Nigel Owens, has revealed he was nearly left out of the Rugby World Cup in Japan because organisers were not happy with his performances in the lead up to the tournament.

Owens is widely regarded as one of the very best officials in the game and was the man in charge for the Rugby World Cup final back in 2015 between New Zealand and Australia.

But in the lead up to Japan 2019, Alain Rolland, who was World Rugby’s High-Performance referee manager at the time, pulled Owens aside to tell him he needed to get his act together and get back to his best.

Otherwise, they were going to go with a younger referee to ger him experience for 2023, with Owens in the twilight of his refereeing career.

And the Welshman agreed he needed to pull his socks up.

“So let me let you into another little secret,” Owens wrote in his WalesOnline column.

“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.”

Owens, of course, went to the World Cup in the end, and even took charge of the best game of the tournament in England vs New Zealand, as well as Ireland’s quarter-final clash with the All Blacks along with some pool games.

The 49-year-old said everyone needs “that pep talk” at some stage in their life, no matter what their profession is.

“But I suppose every one of us needs that pep talk at some stage, whatever job we do,” Owens added.

“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.”