Nigel Owens eyes 100 Tests, but not to 'tick a box' as he delays refereeing retirement

Nigel Owens
Nigel Owens refereed Wales in their uncapped game against Barbarians in November, 2019

Welsh referee Nigel Owens says aiming to pass 100 Test matches is among his reasons for delaying retirement.

The 48-year-old has taken charge of 98 internationals and insists he wants any future appointments to be on merit and not as a box-ticking exercise.

Owens said he has told World Rugby referees manager Alain Rolland: "It would be nice to get to the 100.

"But I wouldn't want you to appoint me to two games just to tick boxes so I can get to 100 on a piece of paper."

The 2019-20 season was due to conclude at the end of the traditional tours to the southern hemisphere by Europe's leading nations.

But the disruption to rugby globally caused by the coronavirus pandemic saw the 2019 Six Nations suspended while summer tours are in danger of being called off or rescheduled.

Owens added: "Yes I want to get to 100 and I want to get more than 100.

"But I want to do it because I'm still one of the top referees and still in that group after my last performances."

Owens' last international 'cap' came in February when France beat England in the Six Nations.

The enforced break has given Owens time to reflect on his own situation and he says since the World Cup, players and figures within the game have questioned his intention to quit while he was still performing at a high level.

Owens says Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) performance director and former Wales captain Ryan Jones, ex-World Cup final referee Derek Bevan and WRU referee manager Paul Adams are among those who have encouraged him to continue.

But he says leading players in Wales and elsewhere have been decisive advocates.

"It's very difficult to hang up the whistle when you're still performing at the top of your game," said Owens. "And what's really changed my mind is the players, really.

"I was out doing Leinster v Glasgow in the Pro14, which was a brilliant game of rugby about six or seven weeks ago.

"I was speaking to a few of the players after the game. They were asking me, 'Why would you want to finish when you're still refereeing the way you are?'

"So it's basically the players who have made me really sit down and think, 'Well yeah, I suppose you've got a point.'"

He added: "Yes, reaching 100 (international) games is part of the equation too and if I were to tell you the numbers don't matter - at this stage when I'm two games away - then I'd be lying to you.

"If I wasn't refereeing well enough, nobody would have to make the decision for me."

Owens is using the break in fixtures to "recharge" his batteries and also does not want it to herald an unnatural end to his refereeing career.

"If this is what next year's going to be like, with no rugby, no refereeing, then it's going to be strange," he said.

"I've always wanted to finish on my terms without being given the chop, so to speak, and the process of finishing would be something natural to you, much easier to deal with.

"If I'm going to finish now, when I'm not quite ready, then it's probably going to affect me, mentally and maybe physically as well because would I be training and stuff, keeping myself healthy? The motivation, all that plays a part in it really."

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