Nigel Owens has explained his handling of Simon Zebo’s try celebration in the Heineken Champions Cup tie between Racing 92 and Ulster last weekend and revealed Zebo thanked him for his intervention.
But the Welsh referee is adamant he had to ask the Irish winger to apologise to Ulster’s Michael Lowry in order to protect the values of rugby.
Running in Racing’s final try in the 44-12 win over Ulster, Zebo wagged his finger in Lowry’s direction before he crossed the try line, prompting Owens to ask him to apologise to the Ulster player, something Zebo did during and after the game, as well as on social media.
The widespread reaction to Owens’ part in the incident was mostly complimentary, though others pointed out Owens should concentrate on reffing the rules of the game, rather than make moral judgments about player behaviour.
Writing in his column for Wales Online, Owens explains his part in the incident.
“I’d noticed a couple of Ulster players go over and have a go at Zebo for what he’d done and I suppose that might have triggered me a little because if I hadn't dealt with it then it may have festered and caused an Ulster player to do something when they got the chance. That may well have been foul play and then I would have been dealing with something worse maybe because I hadn't managed the little issue earlier.
“It just needed a quiet word, and I called Simon over. Knowing him as I do, I could tell straight away he was disappointed with his actions.
“I just said, 'Simon, I don’t think you should have done that and I think you should apologise.’ He’d acknowledged it straight away, was nodding his head in agreement before I’d even finished my words and said 'Yes I know Nige. I'm really sorry, I shouldn’t have done that, it's not like me.'
“He said sorry to Lowry straight away and at the end of the game shook my hand and said ‘thanks for that Nigel Owens, thanks for telling me to do that, for looking after me and making sure I righted my wrong.’”
“It’s important to maintain the values of the game. As referees, we have been asked to do that as part of our duties by World Rugby, EPCR (the European competitions body), Guinness PRO14 and the other governing bodies.
“Sportsmanship has a hugely important role to play in rugby union, as it should do in other sports too, but in particular rugby - especially with the physical nature of the game. If we lose the value of respect and good sportsmanship in rugby then our great game will be in big trouble.
“We don’t want this sort of thing creeping into the game. If you’re a young player trying to make your way in professional rugby, and you’re up against a big name star like Zebo, it’s unfair you’re pointed at like that just because you’re unable to stop someone from scoring a try.
“It’s not a case of stopping celebrations, we just a need to keep these other little things in check.
“Lowry also came up to shake my hand at the and and said ‘thank-you very much Nige’... although I’m not sure if it was for that particular incident, or my handling of the game in general!”