Nigel Owens has accomplished everything in the world of refereeing.
The 2015 Rugby World Cup final, six European Cup Finals, four Guinness PRO14 finals and even an MBE from the Her Majesty the Queen.
The 47-year-old Welshman is one of the most recognisable faces, and voices, in the game today.
But it wasn’t always so glamorous for the boy from Mynyddcerrig.
“I started refereeing by chance really, just helping out some school games while I was still a pupil,” he said.
“I was playing for the school first XV, because it was a new-ish school we didn’t have many numbers to choose from.
“So I was playing full-back, I wasn’t very good. In fact I was a pretty average full-back and we hadn’t won a game all year.
“Last game of the season though we were playing against another small school down in Carmarthenshire and we scored a try with the last play of the game to make the score 12-12.
“We had a conversion to come to win us the game from right in front of the posts – so I said I will take this kick and be the hero in school and we have won the first game ever.
“I took the conversion and it went closer to the corner flag than the posts and the late John Byner said to me after the game ‘Nigel will you go and referee or something?’
“I said: ‘OK’, And the following week there were some inter-house matches and I went along and started reffing those games and I just started reffing from there by pure chance.”
No referee has stood in the middle for more international Test matches than Owens.
But the hunger is still as strong as it ever was for the Welshman.
“People ask me: ‘Why are you still refereeing?,” he added.
“And the reason is that I am still enjoying it, this game is such a special game, friendships and bonds are made forever.
“Being even a small part of this occasion is just amazing, I love referee-ing and I love rugby, so to be a small part of that fraternity and community.
“That is the reason I am still doing it, even just refereeing the local kids games, you meet people through this game that become friends for life.
“But I am only going to enjoy it if I am still performing well, once my performance drops off, and that should only drop off with my experience and the fitness goes and I cannot get down the field as you used to.
“But when that goes, then you are not going to enjoy it and that will be when I call it a day.
“Enjoyment only happens when you are putting in those performances and doing justice to the game and the players on the field.
“I still enjoy it, no matter where I referee.”
And just what is it that makes Owens such a special referee?
He continued: “It takes a certain kind of person to become a referee. You need to be able to deal with the abuse that comes your way.
“Whether it is banter or sometimes crosses the line and becomes personal – there has to be something inside you as a person that allows you to have a thick skin and deal with that.
“After that, you need to have an ability to understand the game, you knowledge of the laws and how to apply them, you empathy and man management of the players, your reading of the game, your authority, being firm but being fair.
“When you get to the top level it comes down to your ability to deal with the pressure.
“The higher up you go the more of those attributes you have, but once you get there, it is about your ability to deal under that pressure that comes on and off the field.
“And also your ability if things don’t go well in a game, to learn from those experiences and dust yourself down.”
So what are the plans for Owens when he does finally call time on a stellar career with the whistle?
“I have not really thought about it really. The refereeing will come to an end. I will probably have some opportunities to do some media work which I am doing now anyway,” he added.
“I will continue to do some of the speaking but I would also like to put something back into refereeing.
“Whether that is in a coaching capacity, inside Wales or outside Wales or for the PRO14, whatever opportunities come up on a coaching side I would love to do.
“It’s important that these values are passed onto the next generation.
“We are one of the custodians of the game in our own way, within the refereeing fraternity.
“I would love to put something back at whatever level that will be, whether it’s full time or part-time role. I envisage it to be something part-time if I carried on with the TV and speaking stuff, we will cross that bridge when we come to it.
“But I am pretty sure that when I finish at the top level, I will probably continue for a season or two after that – refereeing back at the grassroots level.
“Whether that is schools games or community games, I can’t see me finishing internationals and PRO14s – if the body is fine I would like to put something back in down the levels.
“But what is for sure is that when I do hang up the whistle, I am going to miss it. This is my 30th year refereeing. This is all I have done for 30 years pretty much week in and week out.
“This is all I have done, when that does finish I will miss it a hell of a lot.
“But when the time comes it will be the right time and I will know it is the right time and hopefully I won’t miss it in a negative way because I will know it is right.
“But if I finished too early I would have regrets, ending early when I am still good enough.”
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