Playing career makes Rolland exception to the rule
Published 11/02/2012 | 05:00
Of all the rugby Test referees in the game -- and there are about 40 by my last count -- it is an intriguing fact that only one has played international rugby. That man is Alain Rolland.
He played three times at scrum-half for Ireland -- in 1990 against Argentina at Lansdowne Road, when Ireland won 20-18; against the US in 1994, again at Lansdowne, when the hosts triumphed 26-15; and against Italy in Treviso, a game which the Irish lost 22-12. Titillating, isn't it?
To gain international recognition, a player first has to impress at all the lesser levels and rise through the ranks.
Rolland has been there, seen it all from the deepest inferno, and he played his way to the top.
Were those experiences, then, the determining factor in his rise to the premier position of Test referees?
It's also worth pondering if, even if he hadn't played to any extent, would he still be such an astute arbiter to events around him on the pitch?
Then there is Alan Lewis, a first-class referee, who also played international cricket and captained Ireland in that code.
He knew how to conduct affairs on the field and was not averse to commenting on aspects of rugby. the ever-assured Lewis retired before the last World Cup, having been passed over for a place at the finals.
All of which brings us, in a series of uneasy leaps, to the performances of the officials at Lansdowne Road last Sunday.
David Pearson, the touch judge who failed to advise a red card for Bradley Davies, will be the referee in Paris tonight. He is 45.
Wayne Barnes (32), who awarded the match-winning penalty and yellow-carded Stephen Ferris, will be a touch judge in Paris tonight. He made his Test debut as a ref in 2006, and oversaw the Ireland-France match in 2010.
Then there is Achille Reali, the Italian citing commissioner. Despite the range of camera angles at his disposal, Signor Reali failed miserably in the Ferris incident and the three-man disciplinary committee subsequently found that the Irishman didn't infringe in any way.
For someone to make such a bad judgment in interpretating the laws raises plenty of questions.
As for tonight, hopefully Pearson will award us a few dubious penalties and send off a few of the French players.
I saw the Irish win at the Stade Colombes 40 years ago when Ray McLoughlin and debutant scrum-half John Moloney scored the Irish tries.
The only Irish win in Paris since then was in 2000 when Brian O'Driscoll scored that famous hat-trick. Two wins in Paris in 40 years.
What a contrast the years bring. In 1913 the French match was in Cork and was played in the morning so as to allow both teams to enjoy the races at Cork Park in the afternoon.
And in the six matches played before World War One, the Irish scored 95 points and conceded only 28, winning all six. God be with the days.