18 May, 15:44
It's down to the wire now for the five contenders who have been shortlisted for the ultimate individual accolade in northern hemisphere rugby, ERC European Player of the Year 2013.
Did you play rugby before becoming a referee?
Yes. Played scrum half all through Neath Grammar School and played for Wales Schools Under 16. Went on to captain the Welsh Schools Under 19 sevens team, which included David Pickering, the former Wales captain and now chairman of the WRU. After that, played for Bryncoch and had a brief spell with Neath.
It was always to play for Wales.
Has to be captaining the Welsh Schools sevens team at Rosslyn Park.
The usual suspects - Gareth Edwards, Barry John, Phil Bennett, JPR and JJ Williams and Gerald Davies.
Probably Pulp Fiction and Midnight Express.
I have a wide range of musical tastes from classical right through to Led Zepplin, Supertramp, and George Benson.
Anything hot 'n' spicy like Indian or Thai.
My business background before I took up refereeing full-time was centred around sales and sales management. I have an ongoing interest in internet marketing and enjoy reading books on body language and communication.
Ireland is always a great place to visit. It's not too far, there are no language barriers and everyone seems to enjoy the craic. Whenever I'm appointed to a game in Dublin I always visit the same Italian restaurant, Al Boschetto, for a meal. Post match revelries invariably involve a beer or two in Kielys, just outside Donnybrook.
All the Irish grounds have special atmospheres - you can hear the hush that goes around Thomond Park, Donnybrook and Ravenhill when a goal kick is being taken. At all other times there is mayhem going on both on and off the field.
The most intimidating places to visit are in France. A packed stadium in Toulouse gets the hairs up on the back of your neck, but a full house in Perpignan has got to be amongst the most inhospitable venues on the circuit. If there is one thing they hate more than the opposition at Stade Aime Giral it is the referee!! The pre and post match welcomes are always fantastic in France and Italy but, as a referee who has to perform at a big match, you always have to be careful not to enjoy the hospitality too much until after the game.
Edinburgh is another favourite location. It is such an elegant city and the welcome at the Carlton and Roxburgh hotels are always top drawer.
Most Memorable Rugby Moment?
Taking charge of my first test - New Zealand v Italy in Hamilton, June 8, 2002 - and getting selected for RWC 2003.
Thoughts on Season Structure?
The structure of the season for referees in the UK is much better than it was. The Heineken Cup made a huge difference when it was introduced in 1995 because it gave regular cross-border experience to the leading officials.
The advent of the Celtic League, and especially its increase to home and away status this season, has helped enhance the standard of matches for referees in Scotland, Ireland and Wales.
The only down side is that it means we are constantly on the move and we very rarely get a game at home. But at least there are no comfort zones for referees any more. It's important to have good professional club games to get you ready for international rugby and top class Heineken Cup games are just the ticket before the championship begins.
It's a 12 month season for IRB referees these days. Once the Heineken Cup and Parker Pen Challenge Cup and Shield finals are over on May 23, there is a two week break before the leading northern hemisphere officials head across the world for internationals in the southern hemisphere and other IRB games.
What innovation would you bring to rugby?
I cannot understand why there isn't a TMO (Television Match Official) at every televised match. It's so important that we get the decisions right at all games because one wrong decision can cost a club hundreds of thousands of pounds and, even more importantly, have a detrimental affect on people's livelihoods. The careers of players and coaches alike can turn on referees' decisions.
Another change on my wish list would see a clock and formal timekeeper at every professional ground in Europe, just as there were in Australia for the World Cup. This relatively inexpensive and uncomplicated innovation would give clarity to everyone in the ground. It is a must for the northern hemisphere.
I recently put forward a proposal to the IRB that players who are subject to foul play should be allowed 15 minutes to recover without having to be fully substituted. As the rule stands at present, unless you are able to go into the blood bin after being deliberately injured by an opponent your side either has to play with 14 men while you recover, or your game is over. That is unfair and disadvantages the non-offending side.
THE REF'S TOP TOPIC . . . When a referee takes sides.
Professional referees in many countries are now considered part of the coaching team for national sides. They have clinics with professional club coaches and often advise national coaches on strengths and weaknesses of fellow referees. Is it a good thing, or does it compromise referees in any way?
'There is a very fine line between being good communicators and becoming too familiar with players and coaches. There is a danger that the two sides can get too close to each other. As a rule, I would never go out drinking with a player or socialise with them away from a post-match rugby environment.
'The key element in all these matters is to build on the respect that exists between the playing and refereeing sides. I enjoy having a lot more contact with the professional clubs and coaches in Wales than ever before. We have been guilty of being far too insular in Welsh rugby and it is good to see views broadening and coaches looking to take advantage of all aspects of expertise available to them.
'It has been fascinating to me to get involved in analysing matches with coaches. The access that the professional referees are getting to training sessions these days allows us to become much better at our jobs by learning many of the intricate, and until now secret, skills of the trade.
'And to be fair to the coaches, their analysis of the referees is pretty in-depth. They know the length of ball in play time each referee averages and which phases of play they like to penalise teams.
'The professional referees in Wales, as in so many other countries, are continually profiling the officials who are due to take charge of matches involving Wales. All it does is allow the team to focus their attentions on one area or away from another. I don't think it gives any side a head start. We can be creatures of habit after all, just like most players.
'We all do a lot of video analysis on teams in any case, so this is only an extension of that work. When it comes to a game, no referee goes in with a preconceived idea born out of working with players and coaches from any particular team. We always referee on what unfolds in front of our regularly tested eyes!!.
'I'm delighted with the access we are currently getting to training sessions and I believe that all sides are benefiting from the experience - players, coaches and referees. Long may it continue.'
Nigel Williams has been a referee with the Welsh Rugby Union since 1992. If you would like to learn more about how to become a referee in Wales, then please contact the Referee's Department at the WRU. For more information please call Ray Davies on 02920 822000 or e-mail him on email@example.com.