The countdown to the return of Championship action has rugby fans across the world waiting with baited breath, but over in Wales the resumption of play is cause for further celebration.
Referee Nigel Owens has established himself as an icon of the sport since making his Six Nations debut back in 2007, and the 49-year-old is set to become the first official ever to take charge of 100 Tests in France’s Autumn Nations Cup clash with Italy on November 28.
A combination of deep passion for the sport, remarkable character and unwavering dedication to performance and fitness standards have seen him command the respect of the globe’s most elite players, and take charge of the game’s most prestigious fixtures.
Indeed, the former school technician and youth worker made history in 2009 by becoming the first referee to oversee successive European Champions Cup finals, while six years later he was appointed as the man in the middle for the Rugby World Cup showpiece.
As Owens prepares for his landmark, 100th match – scheduled a week after he is due to take charge of England’s Twickenham clash with Georgia – we’ve taken a look back at some of his most memorable Championship moments.
“YOU’RE BOTH ACTING VERY IMMATURE…” – FRANCE V ENGLAND, 2014
Tensions were high in this Championship opener at the Stade de France six years ago, with both France and England desperate to get off to the perfect start in the fresh campaign with victory.
As Red Rose fullback Mike Brown attempted to wrestle the ball back from opposing wing Yoann Huget off the pitch, the pair got into a minor fracas that threatened to blow out of proportion with so many eyes on the incident.
But with typical grace, Owens calmly diffused the situation by putting both Brown and Huget in their place and advising them to focus on the real reason they were on the pitch in Paris.
“UHH.. CHRISTOPHER!” – ENGLAND V FRANCE, 2015
Owens was selected to officiate the reverse fixture a year later, which this time saw both teams contest a 12-try thriller while looking to see out the Championship on a high.
With less than ten minutes remaining England were 13 points in front of Les Bleus, but that didn’t stop home skipper Chris Robshaw testing his luck by appealing a decision given against his team.
Famed for his no-nonsense approach, Owens was having none of it, and bluntly set the back-rower straight when he spoke out of turn.
ENGLAND’S PENALTY TRY – ENGLAND V FRANCE, 2019
Another memorable moment to occur in a game between England and France, we roll back to last year’s Championship to highlight another example of Owens asserting his authority in the Guinness Six Nations.
The decision to award a penalty try and send Gael Fickou to the sin bin after his early tackle on opposing attacker Chris Ashton split opinion among rugby fans, but the way Owens delivered his verdict was an example of his quality.
After carefully considering the situation, he demonstrated openness with Fickou and the rest of the players, demonstrating some of the credentials that have convinced many he is the greatest referee in the world.