RUGBY fans anticipating the new Six Nations Championship received a splendid early treat as Ryan Jones, Nigel Owens and Phil Steele visited Narberth RFC’s clubhouse in midweek as part of a promotional treat put on by Coors Brewers, who had Phil Doubler an attendance to ensure the evening went as smoothly, writes Bill Carne.
A packed house from all over the county, who had paid the princely sum of £6, which included an excellent chicken curry, chips and rice provided by busy steward Ann Lonsdale and her staff, had a real insight into the playing, refereeing and television aspects of the game, with questions answered honestly and a liberal sprinkling of good humour as an added bonus.
Ryan Jones, as every Welsh rugby supporter knows, plays at number eight, blindside flanker or second row for the Ospreys and he has captained Wales on 33 occasions, overtaking the record of 28 held by Ieuan Evans on 16 November 2012 versus Samoa and finishing up skipper on 33 occasions.
He has been involved in three Grand Slam wins, in 2005, as captain in 2008, and 2012, one of only six Welsh players to have won three Grand Slams alongside Gethin Jenkins, Adam Jones, Gareth Edwards, Gerald Davies and JPR Williams. Ryan would almost certainly have been playing against Italy but for his having a troublesome hamstring injury!
He showed what a gentleman he is by bringing several boxes of his smashing book from his successful benefit, which recently ended, offering them signed by him and Nigel Owens, with the proceeds going to the Narberth RFC junior section!
Nigel Owens is rightly regarded as one the best referees in the world after his officiating at New Zealand v Australia and Ireland versus New Zealand in 2013. He was appointed as an international referee in 2005, and that year officiated at his first international between Ireland and Japan in Osaka.
He made his World Cup debut in Lyon, France in 2007 in the Argentina vs. Georgia match and the England versus France match on Saturday was his 49th international. Nigel is only one of two referees ever to be appointed to referee two consecutive Heineken Cup finals: Munster v Toulouse at the Millennium Stadium in 2008 and Leicester Tigers v Leinster at Murrayfield in 2009.
He is also known as one of the presenters on ‘Jonathan’, a rugby-themed Welsh language chat show hosted by Jonathan Davies, broadcast on S4C, and also co-presents the sports-themed Welsh language chat show Bwrw'r Bar.
Phil Steele played 50+ times for Newport, Glamorgan Wanderers and Welsh Colleges in his playing days before he took up reporting with BBC Wales and becoming one of the most respected members of the ‘Scrum Five’ team whose finesse with interviewing rugby stars quickly established him as an integral part of the team.
A former special needs teacher in Gwent, he is rightly regarded as a wonderful after-dinner speaker and after doing a good job of organising the question and answer session at the Lewis Lloyd Ground showed his after-dinner talents as he regaled a captive audience with his recollections of a game he clearly loves!
Phil has a close connection with Pembrokeshire because his first wife hailed from the county and her ashes are scattered in the county, whilst the current Mrs Steele comes from Pembroke Dock, to the evident delight of Mike Bradney, Berry Rogers, Dave Street and the rest of the Bierspool clan in attendance!
John Owen, the club chairman, said afterwards: “What a brilliant evening in front of a capacity audience! Everyone seemed to regard it as a great night out and we would like to thank Ryan Jones, Nigel Owens, Phil Steele, Phil Doubler and Coors Brewers for making it a night to remember. Ann (Lonsdale) and staff have also helped round things off with the excellent food.”
Ryan Jones said that he had been to Narberth many times and felt very much at home whilst Nigel Owens admitted that it was the first time he had been cheered there and not booed by a vociferous crowd at matches.
And the last word is appropriately left to Phil Steele: “We have been received with tremendous warmth and great humour tonight in a club which again proved its ability to do things with real enthusiasm and plenty of class. It has been a pleasure just to be part of it!”
Nigel gives a refereeing master class
WHILE Wales were beating Italy at the Millennium Stadium, another Welsh rugby star was giving a master class in refereeing at the France versus England match in the Stade de France, Paris.
Owens had been in Narberth RFC on the Wednesday evening with Ryan Jones and Phil Steele and in a question and answer session was asked to explain what the day of the big would be like in Paris.
He gave a smashing run-down of events and one could see the love he has for the game in all its aspects. This was just as evident at Stade de France because he just wants players to get on with the game so that the crowd can enjoy a real spectacle in rugby.
It was billed as one of the most important games of the whole Six Nations competition and Nigel Owens was always clear and concise in his instructions so that players knew what he wanted at all times – and the huge crowd understood what his decisions were by his clear signals after the whistle had been blown.
He took complete charge of this epic clash and showed total control of a game where he was rightly praised from all corners for his no-nonsense, common sense approach.
Even that well known English bull dog of the front row, Brian Moore, was captivated by Owens’ performance, none more so than when English back rower Tom Wood clattered French No 10 Jules Plisson to start a mass grab, push and shove by about 20 players.
The Welsh official just let the players disengage, called over the early offenders in the melee, gave them a schoolmasterly ticking off, gave the captains some good advice and restarted the game, after explaining to Plisson that the tackle wasn’t late.
“Don’t you just have to love Mr Nigel Owens,” drooled Moore, normally no fan of referees. “He has a great feel for the game and doesn’t get things out of proportion.”
No less a sports writer than Dan Lucas (The Guardian) agreed in his match report and wrote,
“Nigel Owens said Wood was perfectly justified. He's a quite fantastic referee.”
Moore was again full of praise for Owens later in the game when French winger Yohan Huget and English full back Mike Brown squared up to each other, Huget mimicked a head butt and Brown looked suitably shocked. Owens was quickly involved and Moore told us, “It was just the right action in telling them off and to get on with the game. It warranted no cards and Nigel Owens was again spot on.”
The former England hooker was joined by Lucas, who wrote, “Brown and Huget metaphorically clashed heads and Nigel Owens told them both to grow up before getting on with the game.”
Wales played fairly well against Italy but there was a little Welshman who went even better in France – and there must be few pundits or players of the game at the highest level who would argue that he is currently the best rugby referee in the world.