By his own admission, it has been a whirlwind five years for Guinness PRO14 referee Andrew Brace.
From representing Belgium to sustaining a serious ankle injury, the 29-year-old made his debut in the middle in 2015 when Cardiff Blues entertained Zebre.
Since then, the 29-year-old hasn’t looked back, going on to officiate European Champions Cup matches and international Tests in the last 12 months.
And the Cardiff referee has put the reason for picking up the whistle down to fellow referee John Lacey after spending time together at Munster.
He said: “I came over to Ireland from Wales to play but injuries had taken their toll really. John Lacey then approached me when I was a development officer at Munster and said I should consider taking up refereeing.
“I gave it a shot while I was coaching. At the time, I had lost a bit of motivation for playing and coaching so this was a great opportunity. As they say, as one door closes, another opens.
“It has been a bit of a roller-coaster in the past five years. If someone said five years ago I’d go on to be a referee at this level I probably would’ve laughed at them.
“John was a great guy to have by my side in the beginning and he’s one of my closest friends now. He went through the same things that I did.”
Funnily enough, Brace was on the whistle for arguably the most high-profile European game of his career last weekend – Clermont against Saracens – because of an injury to Lacey!
And his rugby history certainly makes for fascinating reading – playing in Wales and Ireland before being called up to represent Belgium as a scrum-half.
Brace, who is a grade eight violinist in his spare time, admits he loved the opportunity he had to play at international level, albeit for a brief period before breaking his leg and suffering serious ligament damage to his ankle in the process.
“My father’s side of the family is Belgian,” he revealed. “When I was starting off in Ireland an agency contacted me and knew my background.
“They wanted a few players to trial out for Belgium. I played in the Emirates Nations Cup out in Dubai. Getting selected was pretty cool. I played against UAE, Zimbabwe and Hong Kong. I then played in the European Nations Division 1.
“Belgium at that time were challenging the likes of Georgia and Romania. But I then sustained big injuries so it was really frustrating not being able to play again.”
Having made a meteoric rise through the refereeing ranks, Brace now has ambitions of one day officiating at a Rugby World Cup.
Brace had dreams of the 2023 World Cup but having made his mark on the game so quickly, could 2019 in Japan be on the agenda?
He said: “When I started off, it was all about getting to the top. Not everybody gets there. My goal was to get to the World Cup in 2023. That was my long-term goal from the start.
“With the way things have progressed, to already have my first Champions Cup and first international game, the goal will be 2019.
“For me, the next two years are huge. I try and work on each game and try not to have that car crash of a game. You hit a wall at some stage in your progression and it’s how you overcome that and get to the next level.”
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