7 Jun, 15:39
ERC can confirm that the Federation Française de Rugby (FFR) has withdrawn its application to host the 2014 Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup finals, due to the ongoing uncertainty regarding the availability of the Stade de France.
Did you play rugby before becoming a referee?
Yes. I played for Cheltenham Grammar School, Gloucestershire Under 16 and Under 18 Schools, Swansea University and my home town club, Cheltenham. I was a smallish centre who played about 60 games for Cheltenham. I made my debut against Bristol, the then John Player Cup holders, and had the chance to win the game in the final moments with a drop goal attempt. The score was tied at 6-6 . . . and my kick went all along the ground. My most embarrassing moment came at Northampton, where I was carried from 20 metres on the back of England prop Gary Pearce. I played in two UAU Cup finals for Swansea University seconds and thirds while I was a student. I finally gave up playing at the age of 26, when I took up refereeing full time.
My main ambition was always to play for Cheltenham. My father, Bob, played for the club, my older brother, Kim, played for the club and my cousin, Bob White, played for both Cheltenham and Gloucestershire. I can still remember watching my first game at the club when I was six. I was hooked from the start. I played in the centre for the club with my twin brother, Andy, on a number of occasions. He had a final trial for the England Schools Under 18 group, although I'm sure the selectors got him mixed up with me!
Has to be making my debut for Cheltenham against Bristol, who were one of the top sides in the UK at the time. Getting a draw on that occasion was a great effort. If only that drop goal had gone over!
Cheltenham born and bred Phil Blakeway of Gloucester, England and Lions fame. Hard as steel, totally committed and a player with a huge work ethic. He was professional in his approach and attitude to rugby long before the game went professional.
Bad Day at Black rock with Spencer Tracey - an epic!
I've got pretty varied taste, but I'm listening to a lot of Dido at present.
I'm a pasta man - spaghetti bolognese or carbonara are my favourites.
Cricket is my main hobby and my passion. I've always loved playing the game and I have continued my involvement by coaching at my old junior school and captaining the 3rd X1 at Cheltenham cricket club. I played for Gloucestershire Under 16s - a team that contained former England Test players Jack Russell and David Lawrence - and I then captained a Swansea University side that boasted Glamorgan opener Mike Cann and Surrey player Tony Murphy. I've been coaching the youngsters at Prestbury St Mary's Junior School for 20 years and I just love the friendly, relaxed atmosphere of club cricket.
I love the variety you get through being involved in the Heineken Cup and Parker Pen tournaments. There is a different flavour everywhere you go. Every year presents a new challenge because there are different groups of clubs involved, many of who have never met before. That is what makes the Heineken Cup unique in the rugby world.
I love going to Italy because they always do things so well over there. The food is fantastic, the welcome is always warm and everyone wants to do whatever they can to make the whole rugby experience something special. In France, they look to do things with a little bit of style. Their pre-match receptions, where the good and the great of the town is always assembled, are legendary and there is always a great bottle of wine to enjoy after the game. It is a fascinating mix of social culture, food and rugby.
Friday night floodlit matches in Ireland and Wales have their own unique atmosphere - hostile yet warm at the same time. The Irish passion for rugby is exemplified by the Munster supporters. I've done a lot of games in the Heineken Cup involving Munster, but none better than last season's semi-final against Toulouse. It was a fantastic match - one of the most enjoyable I've had been involved in.
Most Memorable Rugby Moment?
Taking charge of the semi-final of the 2003 Rugby World Cup - Australia v New Zealand. The atmosphere was electric, the setting magnificent and the pressure enormous. It was one of those occasions when you take a deep breath and just get on with it.
Thoughts on Season Structure?
I'm really enjoying having Heineken Cup matches in a block this season, and so are the fans I've been speaking to. I think everyone benefits from having chunks of games. Perhaps two blocks of three pool matches could work in the future. The only difficulty is that January tends not to be the best month for weather across Europe. I was involved in the Parker Pen game between Overmach Parma and Pontypridd that never got played due to bad weather. That was a difficult situation, especially when I turned up at Kingsholm and only had one team to referee. On the other hand, having Heineken Cup games immediately before the start of the Six Nations Championship means the players get top quality rugby and the fans are warmed-up to cross-border matches.
My other big beef is that I feel players are in danger of being overplayed. Anything more than 30 games a season, including international matches, I feel is too many. When you consider that the southern hemisphere players average 20-25 games per season, it is easy to see why many people are worried about burn-out. The game mustn't become one of the contributory factors in the shortening of professional players' careers.
Every game is a big one these days, whether it be for club or country. That applies to referees as well as players. There is also an optimum number of matches a referee can manage in a season if he is going to be at his peak and make the decisions that the clubs and players expect and demand. That is no more than 30 in my mind.
What innovation would bring to rugby ?
If I had a magic wand then I would change the colour of the balls and I would radically change the rule on replacements. I think that if we brightened up the colour of the match balls, and made more of a feature item of them, then that would enhance the visual aspect of the game. That especially applies to floodlit matches. When I was playing the old style brown or white balls were more often than not smothered by the players. But the ball is in play so much more these days that it could benefit from being given a facelift. White is a very unimaginative colour and often gets lost by the crowd when teams have white shirts. Let's brighten things up a bit!
As for the late charge of the replacements that seems to happen in almost every match these days, I'm sick of it. And I'm quite sure the fans and the armchair viewers have had enough of it as well. Some matches are in danger of being turned into a shambles because of the number of substitutions. I would love to see this area of the game tightened up because there are consequences all round.
As referees, our job has to start all over again at the scrum and line-out when we get changes to the front row players because we have to get the newcomers to follow the pattern of the match. My suggestion would be to give coaches two windows for making tactical substitutions, over and above changes for injury. That would be at half-time and 60 minutes.
THE REF'S TOP TOPIC . . . the Super 12 versus Heineken Cup.
Lot's of people talk about the major differences between the two tournaments, both from a playing and refereeing perspective. But when you sit down and take a long hard look at the facts, there are few major differences. I've spent a lot of time over the past 12 months with the leading southern hemisphere referees and we all believe that we are getting closer on law interpretation and in our style of game management.
In the end, we are all looking for the same thing - entertaining rugby that is enjoyable for players and spectators alike and a real contest for possession. There are big cultural differences between the two tournaments in that there are promotion and relegation issues for the European teams, and there is the obvious difference in climate.
They play huge contributory roles in how the coaches and players approach matches and in how teams can play on the day. As for referees, we just referee what is put in front of us. I don't think you'll find much difference in the penalty counts between the two tournaments these days.
If you would like to become a rugby referee in England, then contact the RFU's Referee Department at Castlecroft (ask for Barbara Flavell on 01902 380280 ext 15). The RFU wesbsite www.rfu.com carries full details of National Foundation and Mini/Midi courses that are being carried out throughout the country. The website also carries details of Training Officers.