On November 5th, 1994 Ireland played the USA Eagles at Lansdowne Road, Dublin. The game ended in a 26-15 win for Ireland and it was the first time that I participated in an international rugby match.
In those days the fourth (reserve) official sat in the stand kitted out in a tracksuit. Rugby hadn’t gone fully professional and the kind of bedlam that sometimes occurs on the sides of pitches when teams make wholesale substitutions didn’t happen then. All the reserve official did was sit waiting for one of his colleagues to fall down (tired, exhausted, crocked, whatever). Today’s team of officials include two sideline officials who manage substitutions and make sure that teams complete the appropriate paperwork to note whether a player is being replaced tactically or due to injury or blood. They also manage the timings for sin-binned players (10 minute suspensions) and make sure that teams have the right number of water carriers and medical people present. It’s a world of difference.
My mind was set to rambling when I discovered the photo above. It contains a number of interesting individuals such as Santiago Rolandi, the referee from Argentina, and Clayton Thomas and Cliff Jones from Wales, the two touch judges. Seeing that this photo is from the last millennium, those who know me today might have difficulty recognizing the handsome individual on the far left.
This game marked Rolandi’s debut as an international referee. He was different in many ways to the refereeing norm in Ireland – some might have said that he was so laid back that he was horizontal. His display on the pitch caused some heartburn for the performance reviewer (or assessor as they were known then), who completed six pages of notes during the game. I was sitting beside the assessor in the committee box in Lansdowne Road so I had a good idea of his view of how the referee had performed.
But it didn’t matter a jot in the end. After the game finished, Rolandi came into the referee’s dressing room, announced his joy at becoming an international referee, and then told us that this was his last game. He told the same news to the assessor who seemed disappointed at wasting his time taking copious notes for post-match discussion.
Another interesting personage in the photo is Alain Rolland, who recently became famous because he correctly awarded a red card in the RWC semi-final between Wales and France. Alain is one of the substitutes lined up to the right of the team. He’s wearing a rather complicated knee brace, which seems to have been somewhat of a fashion based on the number of others who are similarly equipped.
When he was playing, Alain was a scrum-half who made the life of any poor unfortunate referee who attempted to control his games very difficult indeed. He freely admits that he attempted to push the limits at all times and if he came up against a referee who let him, he took whatever latitude was on offer. In particular, he dominated the base of scrum, ruck, and maul just like any good scrum-half with the added benefit that Alain would instruct the referee whom to penalize and when. Funnily enough, those who incurred the wrath of the referee were always part of Alain’s opposition. If you disbelieve me, listen to the radio interview (also available as a TodayFM podcast on iTunes) of the great man himself when he was on the Ray D’Arcy show last week. I had a little chuckle when I heard Alain admit to being a royal pain for referees. How times have changed!
The Ireland v USA game was also interesting because it marked the first time that the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) admitted women to the post-match dinner, all because USA Rugby had a lady vice-president at the time. Before then, ladies had their own separate post-match dinner away from the men. When speeches had been made and all was ready for dancing, the ladies (who had travelled by bus from the location of their dinner) were admitted. Looking back at the situation today, it’s difficult to understand how such a position would be accepted by anyone, but it was then. Chalk this down to “tradition” or something else. For whatever reason, the barrier was well and truly broken and women are now welcome at all international rugby post-match dinners (that I am aware of), which is how it should be.
Ah memories, sweet memories…