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Nigel Owens bows out of international Test rugby

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Nigel Owens, the most-capped referee in world rugby, has brought his 17-year international career to an end. Last month’s France v Italy Autumn Nations Cup game was his 100th and final Test match having made his international debut officiating Portugal v Georgia in February 2003.

Owens said, “Nobody has a divine right to go on forever. There comes a time where it’s time to move on so international refereeing will come to end now, that France v Italy game was my last Test match. To go out on 100 is a good time to go.

“I’m not going to be around for 2023, I don’t want to be. I still hope to referee in the Pro 14 and locally in Wales this season and maybe next 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’ll 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’m quite excited about. We currently have five referees including myself refereeing at Pro 14 level so it will be exciting to help them make further progress as well as our other upcoming male and female referees.”

Memories and milestones:
Reaching 100 caps was obviously a bit of a milestone in the end.
“I haven’t refereed in order to reach milestones but obviously when those milestones happen like when you get your first cap, it’s something special. When I got my 50th cap out in Dublin it was Brian O’Driscoll’s last international game in Ireland so that it was quite a special occasion and then obviously as the years go 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’re on 98 Test matches. Thankfully I got another two games and reached that milestone so it is something I’m proud of but more importantly I made my family and community proud which I think is more important.

“I’m sure it’s something I will appreciate more when I’ve got time to think about it – maybe I’ll even watch the 2015 RWC final one day! On a serious note, I think it’s important to set goals, but realistic ones – to take each step and a time and then set a new one.

“Along with refereeing the world cup final and other great internationals like the South Africa v New Zealand game in 2013, and memorable European occasions like the seven Champions Cup final and two Challenge Cup finals, there are many other memories too. One that sticks out was being asked to referee Pencoed under 12s v Cwmbran.

“I turned up the morning after refereeing a Heineken Cup match at Leicester. I’d met the team previously so they gave me a great reception when I arrived but one player in the corner of the changing room said, ‘I hope you’re going to ref this match better than yesterday’s’! I just thought, this is what rugby’s all about and that will always stay in my memory along with many other times.”

Representing Wales
“People ask me, which would you choose – refereeing the Rugby World Cup final or seeing Wales in the world cup final?
“It’s a very easy question – seeing my country in the final. We were so close to getting there in 2011 and 2015 too. Your country always comes first whatever sport you play but the next best thing I suppose was to get to referee there and it was a privilege and honour to represent my country, my community and everyone involved in refereeing and Welsh rugby on that stage.

“My whole village of Mynyddcerrig was just unbelievable that week, it was like a carnival! There was something on every day, the club was packed out every night, there were people driving from places like Pontypridd, Merthyr, Aberystwyth and Cardigan because the club had featured on TV that week and they wanted to be part of it. It was unbelievable what that meant for my community and my dad in particular or something very, very special and that’s what made the world cup final so special for me. The only thing I regret is that I couldn’t be there with them to enjoy it all!”

“I have so many people to thank from Clive Norling, who was the WRU referees manager who gave me my first opportunity, Derek Bevan was my coach for years and other people were a help in different ways from the likes of Bob Yeman and Clayton Thomas, to characters like Alyn West in Llanelli & District. It’s an ongoing process and you learn something from everyone who helps, coaches or assesses you over the years. I’m so grateful to so many different people, I owe the people in rugby and the sport so much and I want to help ensure Wales remains a great officiating nation as it always has been.

“My upbringing too had a big influence on me. Humour and Welshness are a big part of who I am. I was on stage in Mynyddcerrig Club at 14 doing stand-up comedy and I did public speaking with the Young Farmers movement. There’s no doubt that grounding helped my communication skills as a referee.”

On inclusion in rugby:
“Unless you are allowed to be yourself and happy in yourself, you can’t enjoy life or be the best you can be.
“It’s important that we are all treated the same and that we’re 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.

“One of the most important values and ethos of rugby union to me is the value of respect. I think today’s society lacks respect but I believe rugby values respect better than any other sport in the world. We can’t take the moral high ground as there are a lot of things that rugby can improve on, but one thing is certain, it does lead on inclusiveness, diversity, fair play and equality for all and that is something I’m very proud to be part of.”

Advice for players
“I would tell any young players, in particular those who have an ambition to make it to the international stage and don’t quite make it for whatever different reason, that refereeing is certainly the next best thing.

“I wouldn’t change a thing. I’ve travelled all over the world for the best part of the last 20 years, I’ve played a small part in some of rugby’s greatest occasions and you could be a part of that too if you take up the whistle. We are here to support you. You won’t regret it if it’s something you enjoy and become passionate about. It’s not for everyone, but with a lot of time and effort, it can be hugely enjoyable so I would encourage anyone to give it a good to give it a go.”

WRU chairman Rob Butcher added, “It’s a truly fantastic achievement for a referee to get to 100 caps. Moreover, Nigel has always been and still is a fantastic ambassador for Welsh rugby throughout the world. He’s a role model for many, not only for his refereeing but his communication and the way he conducts all aspects of his life.

“Along with most rugby playing nations, we need to keep recruiting referees, and who better than Nigel to inspire future Welsh match officials. You may not make it as far as you’d like as a player. If that’s the case, why not try refereeing – not necessarily at international level, but whatever your standard may be.”

Nigel Owens’ international career in stats
Nigel Owens refereed his 100th international 17 years after his test debut in February 2003 when he was in the middle for Portugal versus Georgia in Lisbon.
He claimed his 50th cap on 24 November 2012 when he took charge of Ireland v New Zealand in Dublin.
He surpassed Jonathan Kaplan as the most-capped referee when winning his 71st Test cap on 11 June 2016 in Suva when Fiji hosted Tonga.
He was awarded the 2015 Rugby World Cup final between New Zealand and Australia on 31 October, 2015.
He was the first referee to reach 100 Tests when in the middle of France v Italy in Paris on 28 November 2020

STATS
Tests as referee: 100
Tests as assistant referee: 101
Tests as TMO: 9
Total: 209
Yellow cards: 58
Red cards: 3
First yellow card: Daisuke Ohata (Japan, v Ireland on 12 June, 2005)
First red card: Napolioni Nalaga (Pacific Islanders, v France on 15 November, 2008) Tries scored in his tests: 495 – ever test has had at least one try scored in it
Points scored in his tests: 4,591
Four Rugby World Cups
Rugby World Cup matches as referee: 19
Record-holder for most Six Nations matches as referee: 21
World Rugby Referee Award recipient in 2015

TEAMS REFEREED
Number of teams refereed: 25. Portugal, Georgia, Japan, Ireland, Argentina, Samoa, Uruguay, Italy, Australia, Morocco, England, New Zealand, Scotland, Romania, Fiji, France, Pacific Islanders, South Africa, Russia, Canada, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Tonga, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Jamaica
Team refereed the most: New Zealand, 25 tests from 2007-19
Top five teams by Tests: New Zealand (25), England (24), France (24), Ireland (20), Australia (19) Only 13 tests have not involved a Six Nations or Rugby Championship team

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Wales quartet bolster Scarlets side for Cardiff Blues rematch

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Scarlets take on Cardiff Blues on Friday night

SCARLETS welcome back Wales internationals Johnny McNicholl, Wyn Jones, Ryan Elias and Jake Ball to their starting XV for Friday’s rearranged Guinness PRO14 rematch against Cardiff Blues at Parc y Scarlets (20:00; S4C, Premier Sports).

There are six changes in all to the run-on side, while club skipper Ken Owens is poised to make his first appearance since October. The Wales and British & Irish Lions hooker is named among the replacements after being cleared for action following a shoulder injury.

Behind the scrum, McNicholl comes in for the suspended Liam Williams in the only change to the back division that took the field against the Blues at the Cardiff City Stadium two weeks ago.

The front row changes en bloc with Jones packing down alongside Elias and tight-head prop Javan Sebastian, who replaces the injured Pieter Scholtz.

Ball has made a swift recovery from the knee injury he suffered against the Dragons on New Year’s Day and resumes his second-row partnership with Sam Lousi.

Josh Macleod, this week named as the only uncapped player in Wales’s Six Nations squad, misses out with an ankle niggle so Ed Kennedy slots into the openside spot and links up with Blade Thomson and Sione Kalamafoni the back row.

On the bench, Owens has recovered from the shoulder damage he sustained in round two up in Glasgow. Phil Price, Werner Kruger, Tevita Ratuva and Uzair Cassiem provide the rest of the forwards cover. Kieran Hardy, Angus O’Brien and Steff Hughes make up the remainder of the replacements.

Scarlets v Cardiff Blues (Friday, January 22 (20:00, S4C, Premier Sports)

15 Leigh Halfpenny; 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Jonathan Davies (capt), 12 Johnny Williams, 11 Steff Evans; 10 Dan Jones, 9 Gareth Davies; 1 Wyn Jones, 2 Ryan Elias, 3 Javan Sebastian, 4 Jake Ball, 5 Sam Lousi, 6 Blade Thomson, 7 Ed Kennedy, 8 Sione Kalamafoni.

Reps: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Phil Price, 18 Werner Kruger, 19 Tevita Ratuva, 20 Uzair Cassiem, 21 Kieran Hardy, 22 Angus O’Brien, 23 Steff Hughes.

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Clubs react as Pembrokeshire football league season cancelled

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THERE will be no football in Pembrokeshire until at least August after the 2020/21 season was cancelled on Wednesday night (Jan 20).

The Pembrokeshire Football League said it had taken into account the current Covid-19 situation and replies from clubs in making their decision.

Clubs had played a small number of friendlies towards the end of 2020 with the hope of getting back into the league action.

However, as the coronavirus situation worsened, the majority of clubs took it upon themselves to suspend football activity.

A spokesperson for the Pembrokeshire Football League said: “It was resolved that there will be no competitive football this season in Pembrokeshire at Senior or Junior level. There will also be no organised mini football fixtures for this season.

“Should clubs wish, when the restrictions are lifted and subject to Covid regulations want to play friendlies then they are free to do so subject to the authorisation of the League (as previously).”

Neyland’s Sean Hannon said: “The announcement doesn’t come as a surprise. The most important thing is everyone’s safety and wellbeing. We haven’t had a chance to discuss any possible return to friendlies if restrictions allow but I’m sure we will leave it until at least August by which time we will have a further update from the FAW.

“It goes without saying the FAW will need to update all area associations and clubs on what will happen to player comet registration fees which they asked all clubs to pay for at the start of September 2020.”

A spokesperson for Saundersfoot AFC said: “We all knew it was coming inevitably and you’d be hard pressed to argue against it. As a club the safety of our players/ coaches and their families is paramount it’s just not worth the risk.

“You saw before Christmas the clubs took it between themselves to stop playing before any order from above came through so that shows how serious the clubs are taking it.”

Owen Duggan, Chairman of Fishguard Sport AFC said: “The decision was inevitable and we would commend the Pembrokeshire league for an early conclusion to this, every football club will be working hard behind the scenes to try and retain enough finance to continue.

“We all hope that in the coming months things will improve and we will hopefully commence season in August. We hope all our members and other clubs stay safe and fit and well which is the priority.”

Hakin United, who were crowned champions of the curtailed 2019/20 season, said they fully supported the decision to cancel the league season and recommended that football shouldn’t start back until it’s safe to do so.

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Wales unveil Six Nations squad for forthcoming 2021 Guinness Six Nations campaign

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WALES have named a 36-man squad for the forthcoming 2021 Guinness Six Nations campaign.

The squad features one uncapped player, Scarlets back-row Josh Macleod, who was named in the autumn squad last year but didn’t feature after picking up an injury before the campaign began.

Josh was a former pupil at Ysgol Bro Gwaun and played rugby for Crymych before his move to the Scarlets.

Four players who made their international debuts in that campaign, Kieran Hardy, Callum Sheedy, Johnny Williams and Louis Rees-Zammit are all included.

Rhys Carre, Wyn Jones and Rhodri Jones (last appearance for Wales v South Africa in 2018) are named as the looseheads in the squad with Elliot Dee, Ryan Elias and Ken Owens (who missed the autumn campaign through injury) the hookers. Leon Brown, Tomas Francis and Dillon Lewis are the three named tight-heads.

Jake Ball, Adam Beard, Alun Wyn Jones, Will Rowlands and Cory Hill are included as the second-rows.

Dan Lydiate returns to the international set-up (last appearance v Australia in 2018) and is named alongside Josh Navidi, Aaron Wainwright, Taulupe Faletau, Macleod and Justin Tipuric.

Hardy who made his debut back in November is named as one of three scrum-halves along with Gareth Davies and Tomos Williams, who has returned from injury. Dan Biggar, Jarrod Evans and Sheedy are the three fly-halves.

Johnny Williams, Jonathan Davies, Nick Tompkins and Owen Watkin are named as the centres with George North, Josh Adams, Hallam Amos, Rees-Zammit, Leigh Halfpenny and Liam Williams named as Wales’ back-three options.

“We are hugely looking forward to meeting up as a squad on Monday and to the forthcoming campaign,” said Wales head coach Wayne Pivac.

“The Guinness Six Nations is an important tournament and we have selected a squad accordingly.

“As we consistently spoke about, the autumn for us was about opportunity and development, looking ahead to RWC 2023 and it served that purpose for us.

“This campaign is different, it is tournament rugby and we are excited to get going and to play our part.

“We have picked a squad for this tournament based on form and we are excited to meet up on Monday and to get our preparation underway.”

WALES 2021 GUINNESS SIX NATIONS SQUAD

Forwards:

Rhys Carre (Cardiff Blues) (12 Caps)

Wyn Jones (Scarlets) (30 Caps)

Rhodri Jones (Ospreys) (17 Caps)

Elliot Dee (Dragons) (33 Caps)

Ryan Elias (Scarlets) (17 Caps)

Ken Owens (Scarlets) (77 Caps)

Leon Brown (Dragons) (12 Caps)

Tomas Francis (Exeter Chiefs) (52 Caps)

Dillon Lewis (Cardiff Blues) (28 Caps)

Jake Ball (Scarlets) (49 Caps)

Adam Beard (Ospreys) (21 Caps)

Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys) (143 Caps)

Will Rowlands (Wasps) (5 Caps)

Cory Hill (Cardiff Blues) (29 Caps)

Dan Lydiate (Ospreys) (62 Caps)

Josh Navidi (Cardiff Blues) (24 Caps)

Aaron Wainwright (Dragons) (27 Caps)

Taulupe Faletau (Bath) (81 Caps)

Josh MacLeod (Scarlets) (*Uncapped)

Justin Tipuric (Ospreys) (80 Caps)

Backs:

Gareth Davies (Scarlets) (57 Caps)

Tomos Williams (Cardiff Blues) (20 Caps)

Kieran Hardy (Scarlets) (2 Caps)

Dan Biggar (Northampton Saints) (87 Caps)

Callum Sheedy (Bristol Bears) (4 Caps)

Jarrod Evans (Cardiff Blues) (6 Caps)

Johnny Williams (Scarlets) (2 Caps)

Jonathan Davies (Scarlets) (85 Caps)

Nick Tompkins (Dragons) (8 Caps)

Owen Watkin (Ospreys) (25 Caps)

George North (Ospreys) (98 Caps)

Josh Adams (Cardiff Blues) (29 Caps)

Hallam Amos (Cardiff Blues) (22 Caps)

Louis Rees-Zammit (Gloucester) (4 Caps)

Leigh Halfpenny (Scarlets) (93 Caps)

Liam Williams (Scarlets) (67 Caps)

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