What you can expect from Nigel Owens, the man taking charge of tomorrow’s semi-final
Nigel is the pre-eminent referee of his era. That is borne out not just by the fact that he has done more Tests than anyone else, but also by the fact that he generally produces better spectacles than anyone else.
He has a philosophy of how he likes the game to be played and he has been able to merge that outlook with the ability to make quick and accurate decisions within the framework of the law. That in itself is risky and requires a special skill set.
I think that he may have slipped off the top in some people’s eyes in terms of his accuracy recently, but I rate him in the top few and he has performed well in this tournament, so this appointment is well deserved.
What does he like?
A good spectacle. Ensuring that happens is not easy. He errs on the side of the player rather than the law – he is not overly fussy and will allow a contest in most areas of the game. If a decision is borderline the player will almost always get the benefit of the doubt and he is happy to wear the consequences of his call. He requires the players to buy into his philosophy – if you trust him to be accurate then he will give you licence to express yourself.
It is no coincidence that Nigel has refereed three of my top 10 Tests of all time – New Zealand’s 24-22 win over Ireland in Dublin in 2013, the All Blacks’ 38-27 win at Ellis Park, Johannesburg, against the Springboks that same year and their 35-29 win over Australia in Dunedin in 2017.
You may notice that New Zealand were involved in all three of those games and I do think the way Nigel referees suits the All Blacks’ style of play.
What he doesn’t like
Blowing his whistle too much, though he is not afraid to make big decisions. We saw that with Tomas Lavanini’s red card in the Englandargentina game: Nigel’s instinct was to play on, but when he saw a replay he realised that the lock had to go.
But Nigel prefers to interact rather than be dogmatic, although accuracy is still vital for him. He refereed the final four years ago and could do so again if Wales are not there. That said, I believe officials should only do one final, so I would pick Wayne Barnes if England lose.