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Cian Tracey: Whoever adapts to Nigel Owens better will go a long way to reaching Rugby World Cup semi-final

Calling shots: Nigel Owens will take charge of the big clash
Calling shots: Nigel Owens will take charge of the big clash

By Cian Tracey

Given that the All Blacks have won their last 18 consecutive games which Nigel Owens has been in charge of, it is no wonder they were pleased when he was appointed as referee for tomorrow's World Cup quarter-final.

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That the Welsh official has overseen three New Zealand-Ireland clashes, and the All Blacks have won all three, will have Joe Schmidt on high alert this week.

The Irish players are well used to Owens from both their time with Ireland and their clubs.

Whenever Owens is in charge of a game, it is generally fast and very, very loose. That will play right into New Zealand's hands, so from that end Ireland have to be on their guard in and around the breakdown.

"Obviously we had Nigel in 2013, it's not a great memory for us," Schmidt admitted. "But Nigel has been at the top of world refereeing for a long time, and you've got to respect that.

"You are a very isolated individual on a rugby pitch. It's very easy to pick holes in people who are doing their job.

"We'll catch up with Nigel before kick-off and ask him whether there's anything he's seen in our game that we just need to be careful of.

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"Because we want to make sure we maintain a really positive discipline into this game. And apart from that, we'd have a fair bit of respect for him."

Then there is Owens' personality, which, let's face it, is one of the biggest in the game. Most referees have big egos, and while Owens' quips can be funny, this is serious business.

All Blacks boss Steve Hansen said: "Watch out for his sense of humour, he's pretty good with the one-liners.

"He's got his idiosyncrasies. We know them, Ireland know them, but what I like about Nigel is he's shown over the years that he's good under pressure. It's going to be a big pressure game so we wouldn't want anyone else. Just adapt and adjust."

And that is the key word when it comes to referees, 'adapt'.

Both teams know exactly what to expect from Owens, but whoever adapts to him better will go a long way to reaching the semi-final.

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