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Rugby: Owens to referee World Cup opening match

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By Mitch Phillips

(Reuters) – Nigel Owens, who refereed the 2015 Rugby World Cup final, will get the 2019 tournament underway when he takes charge of the opening game between Japan and Russia in Tokyo on Sept. 20.

World Rugby unveiled the officials for the pool stage of the 44-day tournament on Friday, with all 12 referees allocated at least three pool matches.

Welshman Owens, widely regarded as the best referee in the game, will be appearing in his fourth World Cup and will also take the whistle for Italy v Canada and England v Argentina.

England’s Wayne Barnes is also officiating for the fourth time, while South Africa’s Jaco Peyper is on course to take charge of his 50th international – Japan v Samoa on Oct. 5.

Luke Pearce, Mathieu Raynal, Ben O’Keeffe, Nic Berry and Angus Gardner are making their Rugby World Cup debuts as part of a team of 23 officials for the 48 matches, culminating in the final on Nov. 2.

“With significant strength in depth in international officiating, the team was selected on merit after a comprehensive review of performances,” World Rugby said in a statement on Friday.

“(It) features an exciting and strong blend of experience and youth and follows a hugely productive match officials camp in Japan last week focusing on team culture, processes and alignment.”

World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont added: “Just like for the players and coaches, Rugby World Cup represents the pinnacle of a match official’s career and I would like to congratulate the team of 12 referees, seven assistant referees and four TMOs who have achieved selection today through their hard work, commitment and dedication to excellence.

“I am proud of the leading position that our sport enjoys in terms of the mutual respect and values displayed between match officials, players and all those involved in the game.”

(Reporting by Simon Jennings in Bengaluru, Editing by Ed Osmond)

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