Nigel Owens was born on the 18 June 1971 and raised in Mynyddcerrig; a small traditional Welsh speaking village approximately 12 miles from Carmarthen, in south west Wales. As a keen sportsman, Owens played Full Back for the school rugby team, but after missing a crucial match-winning conversion, the teacher made a tongue in cheek comment that he should consider becoming a referee. It was a half joking throw away comment which could have been instantly forgotten, but by happy coincidence it would change his life, because Owens thought to himself “Why not?’ Owens first started refereeing rugby matches when he was still in school, after which he became a Lab technician at Welsh speaking Ysgol Gyfun Maes Yr Yrfa, Cefneithin, (incidentally the same rugby orientated village where Carwyn James and Barry John had grown up) but still kept refereeing.
Owens talent became widely recognised in the refereeing world, and he took charge of his first Test in 2005 at Osaka, when Japan played Ireland. He officiated at the Argentina v Samoa Test the same year, and refereed 2 other Tests the year after. Owens made his World Cup debut in Lyon, France in September 2007 when (as the only Welsh referee at the tournament) he officiated in the Argentina v Georgia match. He was also the only Welsh referee at the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, and at the age of 44 will once again be the only Welsh referee at this years World Cup.
The previous record for Test appearances by a Welsh referee had been held by the inimitable Derek Bevan (44 Tests – including 4 Rugby World Cups) but in 2013 Nigel Owens took the record with his 45th Test while officiating the clash between New Zealand and France. Going into this World Cup, he currently has 60 international Tests under his belt.
He is one of only two referees to be appointed to referee two consecutive Heineken Cup finals (the other being England's Chris White); Munster v Toulouse at the Millennium Stadium in 2008, and Leicester Tigers v Leinster at Murrayfield in 2009. He has since taken charge of a third final, Leinster v Ulster in Twickenham 2012. This is in addition to two Amlin finals gives Owens a total of 5 European Finals making him the most capped referee in European competition.
With such an obvious success on the field, it is easy to think that life had always been good, but in his younger days he wrestled with the secret that he was gay, and worried about how he would cope in the macho rugby world and perhaps how he would be perceived in a strongly traditional small Welsh village, at the age of 26 during a “very difficult time” Nigel Owens tried to take his own life, but luckily for the rugby world, the Police helicopter found him with just 20 minutes to spare. For 9 years Owens hid the personal torment of why he had tried to commit suicide, but in May 2007 he publicly came out as gay in an interview with Wales on Sunday. He admits it was a difficult decision to make, but “It was great to realise it made no difference to your family and friends and the people in rugby. It was like being born again”. If anything, in a more tolerant world, Owens popularity has grown since he publicly came out.
Outside his on-field obligations, Nigel Owens has a number of interests including being patron of the Wooden Spoon Society rugby charity and patron of Bullies Out charity – in addition to this Owens was also president of the Wales Federation of Young Farmers Clubs in 2010. On TV, he is one of the presenters on a Welsh language TV chat show (along with Jonathan Davies) and has his own quiz programme on S4C. As you can imagine, Owens is also a very entertaining after dinner speaker.
Despite his obvious success and busy schedule, Owens still keeps his feet on the ground and often referees youngsters and still presides over the monthly local District Referees society.
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