Friday, March 07, 2014

An Ode to Owens

A first HoR2 cap for Michelle Tobin as she shares her thoughts on last night’s Nigel Owens event in Kildare…

Nigel Owens photo

Ok, so I lied, there’s absolutely no poetry in this piece. Sue me, well actually, don’t…but anyway…there can only be one Owens, Nigel Owens. Tonight, over 400 people filled a room in Celbridge at a fundraiser for NUIM Barnhall Rugby Club, for an evening with Nigel, subtitled “This is not Soccer”.

And it certainly was not soccer, but we got so much more than anyone could have expected. We were enthralled with tales from his youth, the story of how he ended up refereeing in school and discovering he actually liked it, and how the rest is history. From his first game, to his first televised game, to his first Six Nations game, we were regaled with episodes and anecdotes that had the crowd crying tears of laughter, and a few even shed a tear or two at the few tender moments Nigel shared with the audience.

We learned about his life from rural Wales to life on the road as one of the WRU & IRB’s most respected officials. Stories of games refereed from schools level to top tier international games, each treated with the same level of respect, a respect that he feels is unique to our beloved rugby. Respect, or lack thereof, on behalf of an Italian player, that led to the now internationally quoted phrase, “this is not soccer”.

For a man who claimed, at the start of the evening, not to be academic, each story of matches officiated at was accompanied by details of plays, players and scorelines. If Nigel Owens was ever to go on mastermind, his specialist subject would surely be “rugby games refereed by Nigel Owens”.

Nigel did ask that he wasn’t quoted tonight and I absolutely respect that. Unfortunately that means that I can’t share the moments of witty repartee that had the audience in stitches. His sense of humour and quick wit is something that we’ve had a glimpse of in the past in interviews, and on the pitch. Tonight we got to see it up close and personal. For just over an hour Nigel gave us a unique insight into his world. This section finished with a song, in Welsh. Who knew that this man we know as a referee has a pure and strong singing voice. It was truly beautiful, and powerful, despite the majority of us not understanding a word and only recognising “Myfanwy” as a character from Little Britain.

After a break and some book signing it was open to the floor for a Q&A, one which Nigel generously opened saying that no topic was off limits. The audience were respectful and confined the questions more or less to rugby, laws, experiences, and personalities. Each question was met with a lengthy and detailed answer, sometimes leading to a path nobody could have expected when the question was asked.

Walking into the room tonight I knew Nigel Owens only as a rugby referee who had had “the balls” to come out. A few articles and interviews had given us a little background but could not have prepared us for what lay ahead. He worked the crowd like a professional speaker, knew which tales to tell and kept the focus of every person in that room. Like a professional comedian he had the audience laughing and clapping over and over again. When the day comes that he retires (hopefully not for a long time to come) the world is his oyster, and the rugby world will be richer for having had him, and poorer for his loss. Happily he is contracted to the WRU until at least 2016 so that’s not something anyone has to worry about just yet.

Kudos to the gang at NUIM Barnhall Rugby Club for organising tonight, a great idea for a fundraiser that attracted people from far beyond the hinterland of Kildare. A raffle was also held, raising almost €2,000 for Cheeverstown House, another great cause. But the undoubted hero of the night tonight was Nigel Owens, rugby referee, singer, comedian, entertainer, orator and man. Here’s hoping we all still love him as much after Saturday!


PaulieBio: Michelle (@corkseashell) is a passionate rugby fan, and far too prolific tweeter.

A Munster gal living in Dublin with a mountain of half-written blog posts languishing on her desktop, there simply are not enough hours in the day.

She no longer looks like her picture but cannot let go of #ThomondThursday

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