A YOUNG rugby player from Strabane Academy is patiently waiting to take delivery of a special Christmas present.
Gareth Duncan, a member of the Academy 1st XV squad, is expecting a parcel that contains a signed shirt belonging to none other than leading international rugby official Nigel Owens.
Owens is regarded by many as the top referee in World Rugby and he posted off his shirt to the young Master Duncan after he had been snapped in Gareth’s selfie as the Welshman warmed up ahead of Saturday evening’s Ireland versus Australia game at the Aviva Stadium.
Gareth travelled to the game as a member of a Strabane Academy party which had arrived well ahead of kick-off.
The Strabane lads asked the Welshman for a ‘selfie’ as the official went through his pre-match routine on the sideline. Owens, who also doubles up as an after dinner speaker and TV presenter, duly obliged by posing with a cheeky grin and sneaky gesture, much to the amusement of the schoolboys.
After Ireland marked Rory Best’s 100th appearance with a memorable 27-24, Gareth posted the picture online and by the following morning had some 2, 000 likes.
It was subsequently shared by a number of websites including rugbylad.come and balls.ie and as result has gone viral.
Owens, who refereed the 2015 World Cup Final, shared the photo on his own Twitter account and posted an appeal online to find out who had taken it.
Gareth contacted the official and during a telephone conversation was delighted when told that Owens was going to send him his signed shirt from the night in question.
On Tuesday Owens put a picture on Twitter confirming he had posted the shirt with the signed message, ‘To Gareth, my very best of wishes, Nigel Owens.’
“It was a lovely gesture after what had started out as a bit of fun,” said Academy coach Niall O’Donnell.
“Adam Bratton, who helps out with coaching the team sent Nigel a message on Twitter and it spiralled from there.
“This is a man regarded as the best in the business yet there was no aloofness, he was more than happy to take part in the sideline banter.”
A memorable day all round for the party of some 40 boys was made all the more special when they bumped into Ulster Rugby coach Les Kiss on the way home.
“We met Les in an Applegreen and, despite the fact he was there with his wife and kids, he came over and talked to the boys and asked how their season was going,” added Niall.
“It really is fantastic that boys can see and meet their role models and converse with them as normal people.”