Historic moment awaits Nigel Owens
SPOTLIGHT: Nigel Owens will become the first person to take charge of 100 Test matches when the Welsh referee takes charge of France versus Italy in the Nations Cup in November.
Owens, the World Cup 2015 final referee, who this weekend takes charge of Racing v Saracens in the Champions Cup, will take charge of two matches in the new competition to reach the milestone, 17 years after his Test debut in February 2003 when he was in the middle for Portugal versus Georgia.
Meanwhile, Ireland’s Joy Neville, the Women’s World Cup 2017 final referee, will also make history as the first female to perform television match official duties when Wales face Georgia and Scotland take on Fiji in the same competition.
Both Owens and Neville are past recipients of the World Rugby referee award, the Welshman in 2015 and the former Ireland international in 2017. Other notable achievements include former Harlequins scrumhalf Karl Dickson taking charge of his first Test when France play Wales on October 24.
Former Scotland sevens player and Rio 2016 referee Mike Adamson has also been handed his first major match when England face the Barbarians at Twickenham on October 25, while Nika Amashukeli will become the first Georgian assistant referee in a major international competition.
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Confirmation of the milestones comes as World Rugby announced the selection for matches within the temporary international calendar for 2020, including the rescheduled men’s and women’s Six Nations, the Nations Cup and the Bledisloe Cup competitions.
With various travel and quarantining restrictions limiting global movement, match officials will come from regional hubs and will be regularly tested for Covid-19 while following measures that maintain a bubble environment. This means matches in the northern hemisphere will be officiated by northern hemisphere-based referees, while matches in the southern hemisphere will be refereed by match officials from the southern hemisphere.
As a result of this environment, the two Bledisloe Cup matches between Australia and New Zealand, hosted in New Zealand, will be refereed by non-neutral referees, with New Zealander Paul Williams taking charge of the first match on October 11 and Australia’s Angus Gardner, another former World Rugby referee award recipient, refereeing the second on October 18.
The approach was agreed with the support of the respective unions and their coaches. Appointments for The Rugby Championship will be made in due course. Newly-appointed chairman of the selection committee Graham Mourie said: “This has been a difficult year for society and sport, and therefore these appointments are an important milestone in returning our sport back to normality with much-needed and anticipated Test rugby.
“These selections are geographical in nature to accommodate ongoing travel and quarantine restrictions and the officials will be subject to regular COVID-19 testing in line with World Rugby’s return-to-play protocols.
“The selectors have been impressed with how match officials have maintained focus and fitness during the lockdown and in their performance since the restart, particularly in the area of the breakdown. Lockdown afforded the group time to recalibrate and refocus on on-field priorities and we look forward to seeing everyone back in action next month.”