What’s the last thing he does before going onto the pitch? Who is his rugby hero? Who makes his dream dinner party guest list and what does he say to other referees?
Find all that and so much more out in our Q&A below.
What are your earliest rugby memories?
Ulster faced Australia at the old Ravenhill Stadium when I was a young boy and I went along with my dad (David). I stood on his shoulders on the terrace and it was an incredible game. It was raining hard and the wind was whipping in – not much has changed there. I can’t tell you who won or even the year but it got me hooked.
What do you like to do outside rugby?
I love anything and everything to do with sport. I watch anything going! I am a country boy at heart, so I play all the country sports. I am a big Liverpool fan and then I go fishing, shooting and hunting. I am a very outdoors guy, I just love to get out and about with friends. Travel is also a big passion of mine and I have been very lucky with where I have got to go to thanks to my job. One place I have not gone though is South America – travelling around Brazil and Argentina is my dream.
If you weren’t a referee, what would you be doing?
Teaching. Before I started refereeing and when I finished my degree, it was always my intention to go on and become a geography teacher at secondary school.
Who was your rugby hero growing up?
That would be former Ireland lock Willie Anderson. He stood up to the All Blacks when they were doing the haka famously and I admired him so much for that. New Zealand are the most famous side and they strike fear into everyone so to see an Irishman stand up like that was amazing at the time.
If you could change one rugby law, what would it be?
I would change scrum engagement. I would not want big players smashing together and try and get some more stability. Everyone just wants to get on with the game and not watch multiple scrum re-sets.
When did you want to become a referee?
I was a fly-half when I played the game and I got injured in 2001 with a serious hand injury. It was only then that I thought about it. From there, it has really taken off.
What is your pre-match routine?
Routine is the whole thing for me. I stick to the same routine before every single game, or at least I try too! The only real superstition is that my jersey is always the last thing to go on. I would never warm-up in it, it is the last thing I do before I head out.
What do you discuss with your assistant referees ahead of a match?
It is all down to preparation ahead of a game so we always talk about how we are going to control the game and go through each of our individual roles. This is always in depth so we are fully focussed and aware ahead of every single game. You have different styles, players and weather conditions so making sure you have every angle covers takes a week of work. On gameday, we discuss what challenges we face and how we deal with it.
What advice would you give to an up-and-coming referee?
Just enjoy it. I help develop referees in Ulster and the one thing I always say is if you don’t enjoy it then you won’t be good at it. Whatever comes after in terms of progression can be worked on but first and foremost you must always enjoy it.
What’s the hardest part about being a referee?
The hardest part is accuracy, especially in professional rugby. The game is so fast and things happen at speeds you can’t always keep up with. We don’t get replays and reviews of every incident and often you need eyes in the back of your head to see multiple things going on at the same time. Our decisions are analysed to the nth degree and that brings pressure.
Where’s the most exotic place refereeing has taken you?
Kuala Lumpur was quite a random one and I went there with the Scottish Rugby Union when I was with them in 2005. I also went to Namibia in 2008 and both places were spectacular.
What do you discuss with fellow referees when you get together?
Refereeing. It’s ridiculous but you just end up talking about rugby and everything with it: players, teams, refereeing. It’s just rugby, rugby, rugby.
If you could invite five people to a dinner party, who would you choose?
Now I am really being put on the spot. I would have to go for Donald Trump, he’d certainly be entertaining. He is a lunatic! Richie McCaw would get an invite because he is the best rugby player I have ever seen. He is the best of my generation and is just a step up on everyone else. As a big Liverpool fan, I would have Steven Gerrard there. He is the best Liverpool player I have ever seen. He’s not alive anymore, but from music I would have Michael Jackson. I am a big Jacko fan. And finally…Tiger Woods! I am a fan of his and he was so far ahead of anyone else.
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