Nigel Owens Responds To Austin Healey Saying He’s Become ‘Too Big For Rugby’

“Refereeing for me comes first, second and third.”

Former England international, Austin Healey recently came out and suggested Nigel Owens’ “celebrity status” is beginning to hamper his ability to referee big games.

Owens is regarded as one of the best referees in the world today, but his persona and character sometimes transcends that. He’s one of the most loved figures in rugby, and as a result, in in high demand off the pitch.

House of Rugby is back with a brand new URC show – hosted by RugbyLAD founder Jason Hennessy, Ireland international Megan Williams and Olympic sevens star, Greg O'Shea. Follow and subscribe to it HERE.

Writing in The Telegraph, Healey said  no referee in any other sport has built up a profile quite like Owens. And that Owens is no longer the referee he once was.

“This isn’t to say he should stop doing his talk show or all that other stuff. He is a witty, funny man and, much like players sign commercial deals, he is making the most of what he has while he can.” Healy wrote

“My question is whether that is affecting his ability to referee? Was Nigel Owens a better referee four or five years ago than he is today? I believe he was.”

Now in his column for WalesOnline, Owens has responded to Healey’s suggestions. He says in now way is he a celebrity and that refereeing will always come first.

“I’m not even a celebrity, let alone a celebrity ref. I don’t like that thought one bit.

If I got to the stage where I genuinely believed other things were more important, or getting in the way of my refereeing, then it would be time for me to pack up.

It’s the opposite, however. Refereeing for me comes first, second and third.”

He also says he’s disappointed that Healey says he puts himself on a pedestal. Owens says he doesn’t speak out about inclusion, diversity and equality to ‘be a celebrity’. He does it because “sharing stories helps people.”

“But where Austin disappointed me was in saying I put myself on a pedestal. Let me assure you, I do anything but.

It was an honour to be asked to referee the World Cup final. That is the highlight of any referee or player’s career. It is what we work towards and I’m no different to anyone else.

The work I do for charity, or when I speak up for inclusion, diversity and equality, also puts me in the public domain, I suppose.

But I don’t do, or say, these things because I want to be a celebrity. I do it because sharing stories helps people. I appreciate being an international referee has given me a profile, but when I speak up on LGBT matters it is because that is what is perfectly normal for me, not because of any so-called celebrity status. or seeking a limelight.

The important thing isn’t Nigel Owens, but the people and causes I’m trying to help.”

Owens goes on to address the rest of Healey’s remarks including his TV work, which he points out he was doing long before he was a referee. You can read his column in full here.