Saturday’s Tri Nation match between the All Blacks and the Springboks was memorable for more than just the brilliant game it produced. It proved rugby referees are tougher than their soccer counterparts. In front of a packed stadium at Soccer City, Welsh referee Nigel Owens got smashed by Jimmy Cowan and Schalk Burger, and looked to have taken a nasty knock to his neck. After only a short treatment period however, Nige bounced up and got on with the game. I immediately thought of the incident when Italian Soccer international Paolo Di Canio lightly pushed referee Paul Alcock. This happened back in September 1998, and in my opinion Alcock stumbled backwards like a 95 year old granny who had been blasted by an army tank. In fact the incident made a national newspaper’s all time Top Ten Dives! The newspaper described Alcock’s theatrics to a new born foal splaying its legs. The villain of the piece, Mr Di Canio was quoted as saying “I gave him a shove, but it was hardly done with force. He fell over in a rather strange way-like someone acting for a penalty.” And this came from an Italian!!
Saturdays Tri Nations clash was packed with intensity as the Springboks and All Blacks battled it out in front of over 90 000 fans. The physicality and hits were massive, and none more so when Nigel got in Springbok Flanker Juam Smiths’ way. Smith gave him an almighty shove in the back, as he scrambled to close down All Blacks’ scrum half Jimmy Cowan scooting from the bottom of a ruck. The ensuing play left Nigel underneath both Cowan and the hard hitting Schalk Burger, and for a moment looked like a pretty serious situation. Like the tough players around him though, Nigel dusted himself down and got on with his job.
I used to bump into Nigel a lot in the local supermarket in Swansea when I worked with the Ospreys. It goes to prove that all of that spinach in his trolley must be paying off. He’s some Popeye!