The three most annoying players I had to referee – Nigel Owens

Former Test referee Nigel Owens has picked out the three players he found the ‘most annoying’ to deal with on the rugby pitch.

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The Welsh referee Owens has gained something resembling cult status after refereeing for 17 years before finally hanging up his whistle in international rugby.

Renowned for his witty putdowns of players getting in his ear too frequently, Owens has now revealed the three players he deems the ‘most annoying’ on the pitch.

Maro Itoje

The English lock may have caught headlines in the recent British & Irish Lions series after his three outstanding performances earned him the Lions player-of-the-series award, but Owens says Itoje can be a nightmare to manage.

“Itoje is someone who plays right on the edge. That is what makes him such a great player. He must be so difficult to play against, but he’s also difficult to referee and I mean that with the utmost respect.

“He plays with passion and on the line. It is difficult to tell Itoje not to bring the same confrontation and aggression to the game that he usually does. It would take away from his game.

“You don’t want him to change the way he plays but he needs to pick and choose when he gambles on the situation and when he doesn’t. And understand better those moments when you are under pressure and knowing when, if you take a risk and get it wrong, you will land your team in real trouble.”

Austin Healey 

Since retiring from rugby, Healey has become a pundit. This, according to Owens, is of little surprise since the Englishman always had a lot to say on the field. Although he played a variety of backline positions, it is unquestionably his time spent at scrumhalf that contributed to Healy’s propensity for backchat.

“I only caught him towards the end of his career, thankfully. A wonderfully talented player and a very good pundit now, but he always had plenty to say and quickly assumed I didn’t like him. He’s actually blocked me on Twitter, but I don’t think I’m the only one.”

Dan Biggar 

There are few more animated players in rugby than flyhalf Dan Biggar. The Welshman has something of a reputation for remonstrating with the officials and has at times been criticised for going too far. Owens said he has had more than his fair share of run-ins with his fellow countryman on rugby’s domestic circuit.

“Oh, god, yes. He’s so focused and so passionate about what he’s doing, we’ve had a few run-ins on the pitch down the years.

“I mean, it’s always been in a respectful way as we always have a drink and a laugh after the game.”