The popular referee talks snakes, Superman and saluting magpies

RUGBY WORLD: How much travelling do you get through?

NIGEL OWENS: I do around 30,000 miles a year in the car. Mostly that’s heading to referee or going to the airport.

RW: Do you have any phobias?

NO: Snakes. I totally hate snakes. It beggars belief why anyone would want one as a pet.

RW: What really winds you up?

NO: Inconsiderate drivers who hog the outside lane when the middle lane is free. And people who work in airports or restaurants who are rude. Please and thank you costs nothing.

RW: Do you have any superstitions?

NO: I have a pair of Superman boxers that my little cousins gave me for Christmas that wear for every game.

I always listen to the Welsh hymn How Great Thou Art before heading out. But I don’t let superstition affect the way I referee a game. Oh, and when I see a single magpie I salute it!

RW: What are your nicknames?

NO: At school I was called Pugsley, after the kid from The Addams Family. I was chubby.

RW: Which referees are you friends with?

NO: I get on with them all – guys like Craig Joubert and John Lacey – but I get on best with Wayne Barnes. I sang at his wedding. I was more nervous for that than anything else…

RW: Are the referees really competitive?

NO: We all push each other on, but it is a healthy competition.

RW: Who’d you like to be stuck in a lift with?

NO: I wouldn’t get stuck in a lift because I’m claustrophobic and always use the stairs!

RW: Who’d play you in a film of your life?

NO: Brad Pitt. It couldn’t be anyone else.

RW: Who would be your three dream dinner party guests?

NO: Well Brad and I would talk about the role… I think Nelson Mandela would be good to talk to and I love old-school comedy so I would go for Ken Dodd.

Nelson Mandela

Memories: Nelson Mandela is all smiles as John Smit holds the World Cup above his head

RW: Funniest moment in rugby?

NO: When I look back there have been so many. Getting bowled over in 2010 while reffing South Africa versus New Zealand wasn’t funny at the time, but it is now. Then there was the “it’s not soccer” comment.

RW: Any backchat from players?

NO: I was refereeing a semi-pro game between Llanelli and Aberavon three years ago and we were setting a scrum. I said, “Don’t bugger about or we will never get this done.” One of the props grabbed my whistle out of my hand and said, “We’ll have a better game if you stop blowing this so much!”

RW: Best game you have refereed?

NO: I once refereed Pencoed U12 versus Cwmbran U12 the day after Leicester versus Ulster in the Heineken Cup. Seeing kids enjoy it, playing hard, scoring good tries, was brilliant.

RW: Do you have any prized possessions?

NO: My mum and dad gave me a watch when I was 18. Sadly my mother is no longer with us so that takes pride of place in my house.

RW: Worst purchase you’ve ever made?

NO: I’m not good with tech, but I bought a Blackberry tablet a few years back, took it out and haven’t used it once.

RW: Do you have any hidden talents?

NO: It’s not hidden, but whenever the referees get together and someone has to sing I’ll do it. I get through with showmanship rather than with being good.

RW: How’d you like to be remembered?

NO: Whatever people think of my style or how I referee, I hope people remember me for always being honest.

This interview was published in the September 2014 edition of Rugby World. Click here for the latest subscription offers.