Alain Roland is a poacher turned gamekeeper - the first Test player since 1973 to become an international referee. Moreover, he is the only person to have both played and refereed in the Heineken Cup. Irish born, but fluent in French he is building on a strong World Cup and developing into one of the most respected officials in the game. As with all good referees, his first outing with a whistle came in an emergency situation. Unlike many of the world's leading officials Alain is a part time professional referee while holding down a full-time job .
Age: 37 (born 22/8/66). Married to Liz and has three children - Natasha (6 weeks ), Clodagh (2) and Mark (4).
Occupation: Professional referee and Financial Consultant (mortgage broker), Cornmarket Group Financial Services.
Heineken Cup Appearances: 10 matches (debut 2000/2001 Toulouse v Saracens)
International Appearances: 3 Tests for Ireland as a player (debut v Argentina 1990 at Lansdowne Road); 10 Tests to date as an international referee (debut 2001 Wales v Romania at Millennium Stadium)
Languages Spoken: English and French
Did you play rugby before becoming a referee?
My father didn't know anything about rugby and his major consideration when finding a school for me was to get me into a good academic institution. I was lucky that he found Blackrock College, which was not only very good on the academic front but also one of the best rugby academies in Ireland. I grew to love the game during my time there and played as scrum half for the College and then joined Blackrock RFC. I played for Leinster, Ireland Under 25, Ireland A, the Irish Sevens team and eventually won three caps for Ireland.
As with any schoolboy, I always dreamed of playing for Ireland. I had to work hard at my game and I was always prepared to put in the time and effort.
Nothing could ever beat the feeling of arriving at Lansdowne Road to play in my first international for Ireland against the Pumas in 1990. Knowing that I was the best player in my country in my position on that day was a fantastic feeling. It wasn't a great game, but at least we won 20-18 thanks to a late Michael Kiernan kick.
Gareth Edwards was always my hero. He was the complete player. You could put him into the modern game and he would survive without any trouble.
I like to buy DVDs and if I enjoy a film I will watch it three or four times. Among my all-time favourites are the Shawshank Redemption and The Commitments.
I have a pretty easy ear. One day I'll be listening to Pavarotti, the next it could be Cold Play or George Michael. I used to be into Madness and the Specials in my teens, although to counterbalance that I've been to a concert by the Three Tenors.
I have a very strict diet, although I eat regularly and well. Pasta is my favourite dish, although I like it pretty plain. My favourite dish would be a pasta spirals with a bit of ketchup and Tabasco mixed in.
My wife, Liz, and I enjoy scuba-diving and I guess you could say I'm a fitness fanatic. I love training and I have a different regime for each day of the week. I train every morning - three days of weights and two of aerobics - and I throw in something different in the evenings. Everything is geared to performing at whichever game I have at the weekend.
I'm not as fit now as I was when I was playing for Ireland (I used to be Level 14+ on the dreaded old bleep test), but I reckon I'm fitter now than when I was in my final few seasons of playing with Blackrock and Leinster. Then I was training twice a week and playing at the weekend. Now I'm training and refereeing six days a week. I would be lost in the modern game if I wasn't as fit as I am. I also think that one of the reasons I'm able to have a good rapport with the players is because I am able to keep up with play and be on the spot to make my decisions - whether right or wrong!
Favourite place to visit in European club rugby?
France is my favourite country to visit because of my obvious connections. I love the cuisine, the people and the rugby. There are magnificent stadia at clubs throughout the UK and Ireland, but there is a very special atmosphere at every ground in France. I did my first Heineken Cup game at Le Stadium in Toulouse when Saracens made their debut in the tournament.
It was the homecoming for Thomas Castaignede and there was around 20,000 spectators there. It was an emotional occasion for me because my father had died only a couple of weeks before. I had a lot of family support at the game and some of the players knew of my Dad's death and were very sympathetic. The whole occasion meant more to me because of the circumstances - it's a game I will never forget.
Most Memorable Rugby Moment?
Away from my playing days, I would have to point to my international debut as a referee. It was at the magnificent Millennium Stadium in 2001 when Colin Charvis scored a hat-trick of tries for Wales in their huge win over Romania. My Heineken Cup debut in Toulouse was very special and RWC 2003 was exceptional. I got the quarter-final clash between England and Wales and it was a great game to be a part of.
I can also vividly recall my first Tri-Nations Test in 2003. It was in Pretoria shortly after the Springboks had beaten Australia. New Zealand were the visitors and there was a massive expectation in South Africa ahead of the game. It was 27 degrees, the ground was packed and the singing of the anthem was fantastic - I'd never experienced anything like it in my life. The hairs stood up on the back of my neck. The All Blacks came out and played some wonderful rugby to win the game.
Thoughts on Season Structure?
I'm not really troubled by the way the season is currently structured. I don't mind having a Heineken Cup game to referee one weekend, an international the next and then an All Ireland League match to follow. As a referee, I treat every game the same. The players, regardless of whatever level they play at, deserve the same attention to detail and standard of refereeing from me. As for the players, there are a lot more demands on them these days that when I was playing and they would have a different perspective than I would.
What innovation would you bring to rugby?
I would love to see more players get involved in refereeing. It's a fantastic way to stay involved in the game. Until you try it you never know if you'll enjoy it. For the game to continue to flourish, we require more guys to put something back in by taking up the whistle. The game was fantastic to me as a player and this is an opportunity for me to give something back. I would encourage guys to think about refereeing and to give it a try. I used to ask myself 'who would ever be a referee'? before I finished playing!
THE REF'S TOP TOPIC . . . Accountability and Assessment.
One thing I keep at the centre of my mind about refereeing is that I am only there to do a service to the teams. We are not the focal point of the game, but merely an extension of it. You know you've really done your job when the players and fans in the bar after the match can't remember who the referee was. However, we are central to the activity. Without a referee there would be no game.
As far as accountability is concerned, I think all referees fully realise why they are there and what is expected of them. If they aren't aware, then the players will quickly reassure them and the assessment procedures we all have to go through will act as a further reminder.
The assessors play an important role in refereeing because they provide some quality control. They are part of a support system on the one hand, and the selection team on the other. You'll always find something in a report that is worth discussing with the assessor and I believe it is an important process. It is good to hear what other people think of your performance and discover things you might not have known about your game.
Some people suggest that referees get hung up on who is assessing them, but to me it is absolutely immaterial about who is on the sideline watching me. You have to respect the guys for the time and effort they put in to compile the reports - it can sometimes take up to 12 or 13 hours - but they are never the main point of your focus at the game. I have no problems with the way the system is at present. It is competitive at the top level and the standards are continually rising.
The main areas that referees are assessed on are:
1) Continuity - the tackle area, the advantage rule, rucks and mauls
2) Restarts - kicks/open play, scrummage and lineouts
3) Management- control and communication
Each area is weighed to give a mark out of 100 and there is a non compliance area where the assessor would state the time, team and the player concerned.
The game has progressed and changed so much in recent years and you do need a different type of referee to the old days. The pace and style of the game are totally different. I saw the birth of the professional era as a player. I was involved with the Irish team when we were amateur and then with Leinster when players were being asked to sign contracts and go full time. Now everyone has to be professional in their approach and referees need to be as determined, dedicated and competitive as the players.
In years gone by you had to serve a lengthy apprenticeship as a referee and graduate through the ranks before you could become an international official. Now there is greater flexibility and you can be fast-tracked to the top. The testament to the Irish system is that there are four Irish referees involved in the Six Nations Championship. There are some fantastic youngsters in their 20s who are involved in refereeing and they have to be encouraged to make the grade. It's what the modern game deserves and why the assessment process is so important.
I took up the whistle at the age of 32. My first game was Blackrock 3rd XV v Lansdowne 3rds when the ref didn't turn up. I was always notorious for carrying my kit in the car just in case a team were short and one of the Lansdowne players asked me to fill in when the referee failed to turn up. It was great craic. My career was nearer the end and I was looking for a way to stay actively involved in the game. Even though I'd had some approaches to coach it wasn't the way I wanted to go and so I decided to take up refereeing.
I refereed every second or third Sunday while I was playing. When I retired from playing, I got senior friendlies and one AIL Division 3 match in my first season. From the following season I was into Division 1 and then it was on to Heineken Cup games in my third season.
FOR THE RECORD . . . ALAIN ROLLAND (up to 19/03/04)
International Appearances for Ireland
1990 v Argentina (won 20-18)
1994 v USA (repl'd Michael Bradley) (won 26-15)
1995 v Italy (repl'd David O'Mahony) (lost 12-22)
1994 Toured Australia - playing against ACT (George Gregan was opposite
number), and also an Australian XV
Ireland A Appearances (captain in 1996)
1994 v England A (lost 14-29)
1996 v Scotland A (won 26-19)
1996 v Wales A (won 25-11)
1996 v England A (lost 26-56)
Leinster (5 matches playing in Heineken Cup - 0 points)
LEINSTER 23 Pontypridd 22
Milan 21 LEINSTER 24
LEINSTER 14 Cardiff 23
Llanelli 34 LEINSTER 17
LEINSTER 10 Leicester 27
10 International matches
2001 Wales v Romania
2002 Scotland v France
2002 Argentina v England
2002 France v South Africa
2003 England v Italy
2003 South Africa v New Zealand
2003 France v Fiji
2003 (RWC) Samoa v Georgia
2003 (RWC) Tonga v Canada
2003 (RWC Q/f) Wales v England
(10 matches in Heineken Cup)
Toulouse 22 Saracens 32
Edinburgh Reivers 18 Northampton 15
Newport 21 Toulouse 20
Leicester 54 Perpignan 15
Biarritz Olympique 23 Northampton Saints 20
Llanelli 17 Sale Sharks 12
Leicester Tigers 36 Neath 11
Northampton Saints 20 The Borders 3
Sale Sharks 0 Biarritz Olympique 15
Leicester Tigers 13 Stade Francais 26
Interested in refereeing in Ireland ?