By Josh Raisey of RugbyPass.com
The referees for next weekend's World Cup quarter-finals have been announced and Irish fans are slightly nervous about the appointment of Nigel Owens for their contest with the All Blacks in Tokyo.
Games refereed by Owens tend to be more free-flowing, with fewer penalties and the ball in play longer than any other referee. The All Blacks are synonymous with free-flowing rugby, and the appointment of Owens plays into their hands, according to Irish fans on social media who include Luke Fitzgerald, the former Ireland and British and Irish Lions international.
Although this selection has not filled Irish fans with optimism, it is not a criticism of Owens per se – or at least it should not be. The Welshman has been revered as one of the premier referees in the world over the past decade and he refereed the RWC final in 2015 between New Zealand and Australia. This is simply a case of his refereeing style not suiting Joe Schmidt's side.
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In contrast, All Blacks fans will be elated that they have a referee that will facilitate their brand of rugby. It is just the luck of the draw and, in this circumstance, Ireland feel they are not winners.
While this may be a stylistic clash between Ireland and Owens, some fans also feel that Owens' approach does allow the All Blacks to get away with a lot more on the field, largely at the breakdown and pushing the offside law to the limit.
This is a long-held theory amongst the rugby world that New Zealand are treated more favourably than other teams and Owens will potentially only help them.
The Welsh official has never been a hugely popular figure in Ireland since the All Blacks denied them in the final play of the game at the Aviva Stadium in November 2013 due to what some fans feel were some dubious calls. Similar criticisms were aired in June 2012 when Owens was in charge of a match in Christchurch which the All Blacks only clinched with a late Dan Carter drop goal.
Then again, every country will inevitably have a vendetta against one official. This is what has been said:
Elsewhere, England versus Australia is being refereed by Jerome Garces, Jaco Peyper takes charges of Wales versus France, and the hosts Japan are officiated by Wayne Barnes against South Africa.
Despite beating the All Blacks the last time they played in November, Ireland will go into this game as underdogs and the fans feel this is appointment only makes the job harder.