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Nigel Owens voted as greatest referee in Rugby World Cup history

13 Oct 2023 3 minute read
Nigel Owens. Picture by Florian Christoph (CC BY 2.0).

Experts of the game and the fans of rugby news platform, RugbyPass, have chosen Nigel Owens as the best referee in the history of the Rugby World Cup.

To coincide with the current tournament, RugbyPass created its Rugby World Cup Ultimate XV player picker, asking its 80,000+ strong fanbase – and a selection of expert former players and pundits – to make their selections from its picker and help determine exactly which 15 players would make it into an all-time greats squad.

In addition to picking the all-time greatest players, they were also asked to pick who they think the top coach and referee has been from Rugby World Cup history, plus which stadium is the definitive venue for playing tournament matches.

Having been involved in three World Cups, refereeing the final of the 2015 tournament, and renowned for his quick wit and incredible ability to control games, the Carmarthenshire-born ref had an overwhelming majority, securing 58% of the fanbase’s vote. The wider results of this poll saw the South African duo of Craig Joubert and André Watson take the second and third spots, with 6% and 5% of the vote, respectively.


RugbyPass journalist Owain Jones shared his thoughts on why Owens has been such a popular choice amongst the fans, citing his empathy and connection to players, his incredible mind and decision-making skills, and his endearing and warm nature:

“For me, the reason he’s loved, revered and respected is because of his empathy and the connection he has with the players. Also fans like to be entertained and they like to see a game that ebbs and flows, rather than one with persistent stoppages and whistle-happy referees – and this is something Nigel Owens always seemed to be able to do. Perhaps it’s because he always seemed to have an innate feel for the game.

“He had an incredible mind too when on the pitch. He once told me that he would make around 240 decisions in a test match, and by that he didn’t mean always blowing his whistle, he meant in his head. When you do the maths, that’s one decision every 20 seconds, which is unbelievable, and the concentration required to do that is just immense.

“His little quips made him endearing too. It was also that warmth and his use of language that made him so popular with the fans and I would say there’s few that would ever consider him biased in any way. People always respected his neutrality in the game.”

Jones also added that, for the 2015 Final, World Rugby “needed someone good to take the whistle for it”:

“You had players, especially the All Blacks, at the peak of their powers like Keiran Rad, Richie McCaw and Dan Carter, and they all respected Nigel Owens and his word. He helped make it a very entertaining final, and ultimately, there was no better man to stand in the middle for that game.”

The rest of the findings from the Ultimate XV data are available HERE

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