Nigel’s latest one-liner leaves this viewer cold
There was an interesting spat between former Irish international Luke Fitzgerald and referee Nigel Owens last week. Fitzgerald took issue with a comment made by Owens to Munster lock Billy Holland when explaining why he’d called advantage over: “It’s poor play by you there on the pass – under no pressure there”.
For me Fitzgerald was absolutely on the money, and he also quoted a comment Owens previously made when he penalised Cian Healy at a ruck: “The hands out rule changed three years ago, where have you been?” It’s all a matter of personal taste; are those comments witty, or are they snide?
Owens defended himself by saying his comment to Holland was neither witty or a put-down: “I just explained why advantage was over, nothing more.” But the reality is that he then added his opinion on the quality of the pass, and that’s the issue.
The problem is that Owens has a public profile that is very different from any other top flight ref; he is a TV personality hosting Welsh language shows on S4C, he is a client of a public speaking agency, and he has written an autobiography which he regulary plugs on his Twitter account. He was a recent guest on Desert
Island Discs, where he spoke frankly and movingly on issues surrounding the struggles he had coming to terms with his sexuality.
There is a contradiction between his activities outside of rugby, and his wish to keep a low profile on the pitch.
His comment on Twitter: “The game is about the players not the referee,” is sometimes not borne out by his actions on the field, where deliberately or not (almost certainly the latter), he does become the focus of attention – just look at the number of YouTube videos of his quips.
Some of Owens’ on-field comments can be funny, but I think that sometimes his tongue runs away with him. Other world-class refs communicate equally well with the players – Wayne Barnes is an excellent example – but they manage to avoid crossing the line.
I’d rather see Nigel sticking to reffing, and keeping some of the oneliners for his TV appearances.
Last week we got the clear evidence that SANZAAR chief executive Andy Marinos had been talking through his backside when, in February, he defended Super Rugby and its insane format. All his comments about tries per match being on the increase, and the size of the worldwide TV audience were, as I said at the time, merely an attempt to paint lipstick on a pig.
The announcement came on Sunday that the current 18-team format will revert to 15 for next season, with one Australian and two South African sides being culled. The reasons given were pressure from broadcasters, spectators, and of course, stakeholders – no announcement from a rugby administrator would be complete without the mysterious ‘stakeholders’ getting a mention!
What wasn’t said, of course, was mea culpa, because in those situations an admission of guilt just doesn’t happen. Marinos was still blustering on in an epic attack of management-speak, saying that this was a short-term reaction, and implying that there is still a strategic plan to build a brand that can support more than 15 teams. What wasn’t immediately apparent was which management heads would roll in the wake of this fiasco?
As always there’s a human cost: three teams’ squads – around 120 players – will be looking for work, as will all of the administrative staff and tens of thousands of fans will lose their team. All that merchandise marketed over the past couple of years will effectively have been sold under false pretences, but I’ll bet you that Marinos and his ilk will still be drawing their notinconsiderable salaries.
Here in the North let’s thank our lucky stars we have clubs with a long history, and a following built up over many years. Some of them might be turning big losses and relying on sugar daddies, but at least they aren’t franchises that are disposed of on a whim by administrators.
No laughing matter: Nigel Owens yellow cards Dan Fish of Cardiff Blues