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Owens wants to see Wales in final

Nigel Owens says there will be "nobody happier than me" if Wales contest the 2015 World Cup final - and therefore dash his own hopes of refereeing rugby union's biggest fixture.

Welsh official Owens is a red-hot favourite to control the showpiece occasion at Twickenham on October 31, with many pundits believing that only a first World Cup final appearance by Wales will stop him from being appointed.

Owens is widely-regarded as the world's premier rugby union referee, yet the 44-year-old said: "I am quite aware that people might be saying I am going to do the final if Wales don't get there, but that is far from the case.

"I have to referee well over the next couple of months, in the (World Cup) warm-up games and in the World Cup because there are maybe two, three or four referees who are capable of doing the same, or an even better, job and having the final.

"I have to referee well, and that is all I am thinking about. If I get involved in the World Cup knockout stages, then that is all going to be great.

"If I am sitting in that stadium at Twickenham on October 31 and watching Wales in the final and lifting the William Webb Ellis Trophy, there will be nobody happier than me.

"If Wales don't win it and I am sitting there watching the final, I will be disappointed.

"People ask me what would I rather? Me or Wales being in the final? I would rather Wales, without a shadow of a doubt."

Owens' countryman Derek Bevan refereed the 1991 World Cup final between England and Australia, while Englishman Ed Morrison officiated in Johannesburg four years later when South Africa toppled New Zealand after extra-time, so Owens would end a 20-year wait for British referees if he lands the top job.

World Rugby have now confirmed the World Cup pool stage appointments, with Owens being handed potentially-key encounters between Ireland and France and Scotland versus South Africa, plus Tonga's appointment with Georgia in Gloucester.

Scotland's encounter against South Africa will take him to St James' Park in Newcastle for the first time, while Ireland and France go head to head at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium, where Owens has never previously refereed a Test match.

"The World Cup is the pinnacle," said Owens, who was speaking during a Rugby World Cup trophy tour event at Sophia Gardens in Cardiff.

"It kicked in yesterday when we got the fixtures. I had no idea what games I was going to get, and I am looking forward to it.

"Tonga and Georgia is on the first weekend, so they will be geared up for that and they are both physical sides, which will take some refereeing.

"South Africa and Scotland is the big game in that pool, and there is the added interest of it being at St James' Park in Newcastle, and I have never been there before.

"Then, I have a massive game of France and Ireland, which could be the pool decider. When I saw the fixture I thought it would be a good game to do because it's in the Millennium Stadium and I have not refereed an international game there before."

Owens heads to Australia next week ahead of controlling the Rugby Championship clash between the Wallabies and South Africa in Brisbane, while he also has an August refereeing appointment in Auckland and will officiate England's final World Cup warm-up game against Ireland at Twickenham on September 5.

Owens is set for his third successive World Cup campaign, and he added: "The game is better now than it was in 2007.

"If you look at the last 12 months, there have been some brilliant games, and if teams play like that it will be a great World Cup. The physicality, speed of the game and time of ball in play have all gone up a notch.

"The pressure and spotlight on the referee has also gone up.

"In 2007, I was pretty inexperienced with only two years of international rugby behind me. I will go into this World Cup as the most experienced, and the oldest.

"The better you perform over the years, the more experienced you get and with the bigger games, but with that comes bigger pressure."


From Belfast Telegraph