Nigel Owens: Ronan O’Gara was one of the lippiest players I ever dealt with

ROG and Peter Stringer gave Nigel some tough days out on the pitch.

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Most rugby fans will be sad to see referee Nigel Owens finally turn in his whistle at the end of this season as his career in the professional game comes to a close. Owens exited the international arena after retiring in November on 100 test matches refereed, a world record for an official.

He has vowed to continue in the PRO 14 competition until the end of the current season though, so he hasn’t rode off into the sunset just yet. Thankfully, we were lucky enough to have the rugby great as our star guest on our From The Horse’s Mouth podcast this week, as he gave the inside scoop to hosts Paddy Power and Ruby Walsh.

With 2021 being his 20th and final year at the professional level, Owens has dealt with a lot of players over the years. However, it was a certain Munster out-half that he remembers more than most. Nigel spoke to the guys about his relationship with Ronan O’Gara, but also revealed that ‘Rog’ had his good points too.

When asked if the Irish Grand Slam winner was one of the lippiest players he ever taken charge of, Owens’ answer was quite definitive.

“Definitely! Rog and (Peter) Stringer, oh, when you had to referee the two of them together,” the Welsh ref chuckled.

They were lippy, in a respectful way.

“I always got on well with the both of them though. I have a huge amount of respect for them, but they made my days hard on occasions. I remember going to referee Munster against Northampton in the (2011) quarter final of the European Cup in Thomond Park.

“There were 28,000 packed in there. Paul O’Connell was injured, and O’Gara was captain of Munster that day. It was the famous game where there were 40 phases and O’Gara dropped the goal at the end to win the game.”

“I was over in Munster about a month before reffing in the Magners League, as it was back then. In the airport in Shannon on the way back, it was just before Christmas, so I bought his autobiography for my dad as a Christmas present.

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“I gave it to him, and my dad said, “oh, it would be nice if you could get this signed,” Owens told Paddy and Ruby.

I never go asking players to sign things, but I had it in my bag and if I had a chance, I told dad I’d ask him.

“O’Gara came into the changing room and thanked me for the game. He sat down in a chair and I said, ‘So, while you’re here, do you mind signing this for my dad? I bought it for Christmas’. “Yeah, of course,” he replied.

“He sat down and chatted away. He signed the book, then off he went. Then I went back and gave my dad the book. But, I hadn’t looked in it. Dad looked inside and he said, “have you seen what he’s written in here?”

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“I thought, ‘oh Christ, what’s he written in there now?’

He’d written, ‘To Geraint, hope you enjoy reading the book and you can be very, very proud of what your son has achieved on and off the pitch. Ronan O’Gara.’

“I thought, ‘fair play to him’. Of all the times he’s been in my ear, of all the hard times he’s given me on the pitch, you’re forgiven there and then. Him and Stringer together though, you had your work cut out.”

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