Nigel Owens MBE (born 18 June 1971) is a Welsh international rugby union referee. He is one of three professional referees at the Welsh Rugby Union, alongside Ben Whitehouse and Craig Evans. Owens is also known as a TV personality, as one of the presenters of the S4C Welsh language chat shows Jonathan and Bwrw’r Bar. Owens also hosts his own quiz programme Munud i Fynd. In 2011 he was made a member of the Gorsedd of Bards.
Owens was born and raised in the village of Mynyddcerrig, near Cross Hands in Carmarthenshire, Wales. He is a fluent Welsh speaker. He was a school technician at Ysgol Gyfun Maes-yr-Yrfa (cy) in Llanelli, the same school attended by Welsh international Dwayne Peel, and was a youth worker with Menter Cwm Gwendraeth. Before that he worked on a farm, for over a year, as a farmhand.
Owens started refereeing in 1987, after his sports teacher John Beynon suggested he take up refereeing after a school game. His first game was an under-15s match between Carmarthen and Pembrokeshire at the age of 16.
Owens made his European debut during the 2000–01 European Challenge Cup season, refereeing London Irish and Piacenza on 21 January 2001. In October 2001, Owens was one of the first three Welsh Rugby Union professional referees. He made his debut in Europe’s Heineken Cup, refereeing Calvisano and Perpignan, on 12 January 2002. Owens made his Celtic League debut on 30 August 2002, refereeing Border Reivers and Connacht.
Owens was a regular referee on the International Rugby Board World Sevens Series circuit between 2002 and 2005. On 16 February 2003, Owens had his first 15-a-side international appointment, refereeing the second-tier match Portugal v Georgia during the 2003–04 European Nations Cup First Division. In 2005, Owens earned his first International Rugby Board appointment, when he was appointed to the first test of the Irish tour of Japan in Osaka. During the 2005/06 season, Owens became a regular appointment at both Celtic League and Heineken Cup level, making six appearances during the 2005–06 Heineken Cup.
In 2013, Owens refereed his 100th Pro12 game and became the most-appointed Welsh referee at international level, overtaking Derek Bevan. During the 2014–15 European Rugby Champions Cup he became the most-appointed referee at European Rugby Champions Cup/Heineken Cup level with 80 appointments, overtaking Alain Rolland.
Owens was on the 12-man referee panel for the 2015 Rugby World Cup where he was appointed to three pool stage matches, including the France v Ireland clash at the Millennium Stadium, which was the first time Owens refereed an international match at the Welsh home stadium. Owens refereed two more World Cup tests, one of which was the 2015 Rugby World Cup Final between New Zealand and Australia. He became the second Welsh referee to referee a World Cup Final, after Derek Bevan took charge of the 1991 Rugby World Cup Final. Owens won the World Rugby Referee Award at the 2015 World Rugby Awards.
Owens announced on 3 November 2015 that he intended to keep refereeing international rugby for another four years.
On 5 March 2016, Owens launched the 2019 Rugby World Cup qualifying process, refereeing the first qualification match, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines v Jamaica in Arnos Vale. Later that year, Owens became the most-capped rugby referee when he took charge of the Fiji-Tonga clash in Suva, overtaking Jonathan Kaplan’s record of 70 tests.