Nigel Owens will add another big rugby occasion to his world record breaking CV when he makes his debut in the men’s Varsity Match at Twickenham on Thursday (kick-off 3.00pm).
The 47-year-old Welshman will be back at the venue where he refereed the 2015 World Cup final between New Zealand and Australia before heading to Paris on Sunday to take charge of the Heineken Champions Cup clash between Racing 92 and Leicester Tigers.
“So many of the greatest referees have officiated at the Varsity Match at Twickenham. It is one of the iconic fixtures in the game and I’ve seen the likes of Clive Norling and Derek Bevan in the middle before,” said Owens.
“I had hoped to be able to referee the game a few years ago, but European matches got in the way. I initially had a weekend off for Round 3 of the Heineken Champions Cup, but I’ve been called in to do the Racing 92 home game against Leicester in Paris on Sunday.
“It looked as though I’d have to miss out on the Varsity Match once again, but the EPCR referee manager Joel Jutge gave me special dispensation to do both games. I’m very grateful to him and I’m really looking forward to being a part of such an historic occasion.”
You have to go back 115 years to find the first Welshman to referee the Varsity Match. That was Tom Williams way back in 1903 and since then the best officials produced by the Principality have been in huge demand.
Between 1922-29, Tommy Vile and Albert Freethy controlled eight successive Varsity contests and Freethy took charge of six in all. That was a record beaten by Gwynne Walters in the Fifties and Sixties with seven appearances, while Clive Norling did six in the Seventies and Eighties.
“It was also a huge honour for referees to be invited by the two clubs to be part of the Varsity Match and when I looked at what all my Welsh predecessors had done I didn’t want to miss out on this game in my career,” Owens added.
Owens will become the second World Cup final referee to grace the fixture as he follows in the footsteps of Derek Bevan. Bevan was in the middle for the 1991 World Cup final at Twickenham, and two years later refereed the Varsity Match.
“It is fantastic to have the endorsement of the world’s leading referee for our fixture at Twickenham. It is nice to see that the current crop of professional referees still see value in the traditions of the game and still want to be involved in games like the Varsity Match,” said David Searle, CEO of the Varsity Match Company.
“Nigel has a well-earned reputation for bringing out the best from the players of both sides on the big occasion and everyone connected with both clubs will be delighted to have him in the middle.”
Owens will be supported by Clare Daniels and Greg Garner as his assistant referees for what will be the 137th meeting of the two universities since they first locked horns in 1872.
Tickets for the 30th Anniversary of Women’s Varsity Match and 137th Men’s Varsity Match at Twickenham on Thursday, 6 December, are still available from £25 adults, £15 students and £10 juniors at www.thevarsitymatch.com.
MEN’S VARSITY MATCH REFEREES 1881-2017 *
There were no referees until 1881.
All referees are from the RFU unless stated.
1881: Henry Taylor; 1882: Wilf Bolton; 1883-84, 1886-90: Rowland Hill; 1885: Innes Currey; 1891-93, 1894-95: Henry Ashmore; 1894: Captain Lawrence; 1897-1902: George Harnett; 1903: Tom Williams (Wales); 1904: Crawford Findlay (Scotland); 1905: John Gillespie (Scotland); 1906: Fred Marsh; 1907-08: Gil Evans; 1909, 11, 13, 19: Frank Potter-Irwin; 1910, 12: John Dallas (Scotland); 1920: Sam Crawford (Ireland); 1921: John Sturrock (Scotland); 1922, 24, 26, 28: Tommy Vile (Wales); 1923, 25, 27, 29, 31, 32: Albert Freethy (Wales); 1930: Billy Jaffares (Ireland); 1933-1934: Malcolm Allan (Scotland); 1935-1938, 45, 47: Cyril Gadney; 1946: Ham Lambert (Ireland); 1948-49: Alan Bean; 1950: Trevor Jones (Wales); 1951, 53: Dr Peter Cooper; 1952: William Murdoch (Scotland); 1954-55: Ivor David (Wales); 1956, 67: Ken John; 1957, 60-62, 64-66: Gwynne Walters (Wales); 1958: Les Boundy; 1959: Ray Williams (Ireland); 1963: Bob Burrell (Scotland); 1968: Paddy D’Arcy (Ireland); 1969: Mike Titcomb; 1970: Larry Lamb; 1971: Ron Lewis (Wales); 1972: Johnny Johnson; 1973: Keith Clark (Ireland); 1974: Ken Pattinson; 1975: Alan Welsby; 1976: Norman Sanson (Scotland); 1977-78, 81, 87-89: Clive Norling (Wales); 1979: Alan Hosie (Scotland); 1980, 82: Dave Burnett (Ireland); 1983: Tony Trigg; 1984: Laurie Prideaux; 1985: Roger Quittenton; 1986: Fred Howard; 1990: Owen Doyle (Ireland); 1991: Jim Fleming (Scotland); 1992, 98: Ed Morrison; 1993: Derek Bevan (Wales); 1994: Steve Hilditch (Ireland); 1995, 02, 07: Tony Spreadbury; 1996: Jim Pearson; 1997: Brian Campsall; 1999: Clayton Thomas (Wales); 2000, 03: Chris White; 2001, 04: Steve Lander; 2005: Wayne Barnes; 2006: David Rose; 2008: Wayne Barnes; 2009: Dean Richards; 2010: Andrew Small; 2011: Dave Pearson; 2012: Tim Wigglesworth; 2013: Matt Carley; 2014: Luke Pearce; 2015: Greg Garner; 2016: Tim Wigglesworth; 2017: Christophe Ridley