Nigel Owens, the popular Welsh referee, hit the headlines again last week after he tactfully reprimanded Simon Zebo in Racing 92’s resounding win vs Ulster last weekend in the Champions Cup.
He has become famous globally for his excellent refereeing, but also his occasional funny quips to players that get picked up by the on-field mic.
The values and good sportsmanship of the game have been something that Owens has always tried to uphold, and this was evident again last week when he spoke to Zebo.
Zebo, whilst celebrating the try, started taunting Lowry by pointing his finger at him to provoke a reaction.
Sensing that this could cause tensions to boil over, Owens stepped in quickly and had a word in his ear to make him think about his responsibilities and encouraged him to apologise to his opponent.
Speaking in his column for Wales Online, Owens said: “It just needed a quiet word, and I called Simon over. Knowing him as I do, I could tell straight away he was disappointed with his actions.
"I just said, 'Simon, I don’t think you should have done that and I think you should apologise.’ He’d acknowledged it straight away, was nodding his head in agreement before I’d even finished my words and said 'Yes I know Nige. I'm really sorry, I shouldn’t have done that, it's not like me.”
Zebo quickly apologised to Lowry and went up to Owens after the game to thank him for recognising that his actions were not befitting of a player of his stature.
Owens was widely praised on social media from figures such as powerful ex-France great Serge Betsen and the current boss of World Rugby Brett Gosper, who also praised Zebo for quickly realising and reconciling his actions.
As is the case these days of social media, despite the largely warm praise for Owens, some criticised him for his actions, saying that it is not the place of the referee to make a comment and that he should have concentrated on the game.
Owens refutes this, however, going on to say: "Part of our duty is to ensure the game’s values are respected and protected.
"We don’t stop any of the team celebrating that and nor should we. But we certainly should stop them running up to the opponents and taunting them afterwards.
"So it's the little things that need addressing and stopping from becoming the norm, players tapping the opposition on the head after a mistake, or belittling in any way.
"I know Zebo well off the field as I do many players, and like the Ireland star most are genuinely good guys. He is of course a wonderful player who can, perhaps, sometimes be a little enthusiastic in his celebration of tries.
"It is to his credit that he did intervene, and Zebo quickly recognised it and went to Lowry after the game to apologise again.
"But on this occasion there was a 20-year-old Ulster full-back, only a few games into his first season in the game, and Zebo was pointing the finger and celebrating before running in at the corner. This is not what we deem as acceptable celebrating, it is something that, within the laws of rugby, is against the game's values, or good sportsmanship."
Owens is unfairly criticised in some quarters by some who think that he makes the game about him through incidents such as this.
But as he says in his column: "I don’t referee, or say or do things on the pitch to become a hit on social media. The only thing I do is go about my job to the best of my ability."
His role is to be an arbiter of decency, ensure a flowing game of rugby and uphold the values of the game.
If this means his words are regularly picked up on a mic and put on social media, then so be it.
The game of rugby will miss him and be poorer when Nigel Owens eventually does hang up his whistle.News Now - Sport News