World Cup final ref Owens officiates the first qualifier for 2019 tournament when St Vincent & the Grenadines host Jamaica
The match takes place on the sun-kissed Caribbean island this weekend
Owens has not officiated a Test match since blowing the whistle when New Zealand beat Australia 34-17 at Twickenham on October 31
Top referee Nigel Owens will officiate in the first qualifying match for Rugby World Cup 2019 when St Vincent and the Grenadines host Jamaica on Saturday.
Welshman Owens, who is widely regarded as the best rugby referee of all time, took charge of the 2015 World Cup final when New Zealand beat Australia 34-17 at Twickenham on October 31, and will now help kick off the global tournament’s new four-year cycle. He will however only take charge of one match during the 2016 Six Nations.
Qualification for the 2019 World Cup in Japan will comprise almost 200 matches, starting with the March 5 clash to be overseen by the game’s preeminent official.
“It’s an honour to be appointed to this important match and I will prepare the same way as I always do,” said Owens.
“Every time I take the field as a referee it is an honour and even more so when it’s a Test match.
“Refereeing the Rugby World Cup final was a wonderful experience and one that I will treasure forever but every match is memorable in its own way and I am really looking forward to this next challenge.”
Governing body World Rugby expect more than 3,000 players to contest the qualification for World Cup 2019, with matches spanning six continents.
World Rugby Chairman Bernard Lapasset said: “With a very special Rugby World Cup 2015 fresh in our memories, we are excited to be launching the qualification process for Japan 2019.
“It is fitting that Nigel should referee this match as it creates a sense of continuity and shows how important even the first qualifier is in the entire process. In many ways, Rugby World Cup is not just a tournament of 20 teams but in fact it is designed to include 103 full member unions.”
St Vincent & the Grenadines have only played a handful of Test matches. They have made two previous attempts to reach the World Cup, but lost a qualifier to St Lucia in 2005 and to Mexico three years after.