Nigel Owens On The Two Munster Legends That Were The Most ‘Difficult’ To Referee

Cheeky.

Legendary referee Nigel Owens has taken charge of a fair few of games involving Munster and the other Irish provinces over the years with plenty of stories to boot as a result.

Owens recently retired from the international game to focus solely on domestic rugby, allowing him to do a lot more media work and recently appeared on Paddy Power’s podcast – From The Horse’s Mouth to recall some hilarious stories involving two Munster greats.

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For a long time, Ronan O’Gara and Peter String were one of the best halfback pairings in the world, starting alongside each other countless times for both Munster and Ireland have played alongside each other since their school days in Cork.

And both players, as all halfbacks do, loved to get in referees ears from time to time to ‘air their grievances’ so to speak and try and give their team any edge they could when possible.

And according to Owens – the pair were ‘difficult’ to referee at the best of times.

“Definitely! ROG and (Peter) Stringer, oh, when you had to referee the two of them together,” Owens chuckled when asked about some of the trickier players to referee over the years.

“I always got on well with the both of them though. I have a huge amount of respect for them, but they made my days hard on occasions.

“I remember going to referee Munster against Northampton in the (2011) quarter-final of the European Cup in Thomond Park. There were 28,000 packed in there. Paul O’Connell was injured, and O’Gara was captain of Munster that day. It was the famous game where there were 40 phases and O’Gara dropped the goal at the end to win the game.

“They were lippy in a respectful way.” 

But O’Gara showed his class to Owens on more than one occasion too…

“I was over in Munster about a month before reffing in the Magners League, as it was back then.  In the airport in Shannon on the way back, it was just before Christmas, so I bought his autobiography for my dad as a Christmas present,” Owens recalled.

“I gave it to him, and my dad said, “oh, it would be nice if you could get this signed.

“I never go asking players to sign things, but I had it in my bag and if I had a chance I told Dad I’d ask him. O’Gara came into the changing room and thanked me for the game.

“He sat down in a chair and I said, ‘So, while you’re here, do you mind signing this for my dad? I bought it for Christmas’. “Yeah, of course,” he replied.

“He sat down and chatted away. He signed the book, then off he went. Then I went back and gave my dad the book. But, I hadn’t looked in it.

“Dad looked inside and he said, “have you seen what he’s written in here?” “I thought, ‘oh Christ, what’s he written in there now?’ 

“He’d written, ‘To Geraint, hope you enjoy reading the book and you can be very, very proud of what your son has achieved on and off the pitch. Ronan O’Gara.’ 

“I thought, ‘fair play to him’. Of all the times he’s been in my ear, of all the hard times he’s given me on the pitch, you’re forgiven there and then.

“Him and Stringer together though, you had your work cut out.”