They’ve racked up thousands of views on YouTube. They’re emblazoned on the front of T-shirts. They’ve put some of the world’s burliest sportsmen in their place.
The put-downs and quips delivered by Welsh referee Nigel Owens have become a thing of legend in rugby, and more could arrive on Saturday when he takes charge of the Rugby World Cup final between New Zealand and Australia.
The 44-year-old Owens is famous for being one of the few openly gay men in sports, but less well-known is his past in stand-up comedy and acting on stage as a youngster.
He is in demand as a speaker on the after-dinner or social-club circuit.
It means his jokes are sharp, his retorts are quick – and all are broadcast to the world because rugby makes referees wear television microphones during games.
Here is a selection of his best one-liners on the rugby field:
– To Harlequins lock George Robson and Wasps lock Bradley Davies, as they grappled after play had been stopped during an English Premiership league game:
“It’s embarrassing, Will you leave it. If you want a cwtch (a Welsh word for ‘cuddle’), do it off the field.”
– To Harlequins hooker Dave Ward, who delivered a crooked lineout throw against Castres during a European Cup game:
“I’m straighter than that one.”
– To Treviso halfback Tobias Botes in a Pro 12 game against Munster:
“I don’t think we’ve met before. I’m the referee on this field. Stick to your job and I will do mine. If I hear you shouting anything again, I will be penalising you. This is not soccer. Back you go.”
– To England captain Chris Robshaw, who was attempting to convince Owens to award a penalty during a Six Nations game against France:
“Christopher! Thank you.”
– To Scotland fullback Stuart Hogg, who dived theatrically after being lightly touched during a Rugby World Cup game against South Africa at St James’ Park, the home of soccer club Newcastle United:
“Dive like that again, and come back in two weeks and play. Not today. Watch it.”
– To the packs of Welsh team Scarlets and Irish province Leinster, after some scuffles during a Pro 12 game. Owens said he was not going to make a big deal of the issue, then called all 30 players in to gather round him and listen to his warning.
“It ends there. You’re adults. You’ll be treated like it as long as you behave like it.”