Which three musicians would be heading to Brace’s dream dinner party? Who was his rugby hero growing up and what caused the Welshman to take up refereeing?
Find out all that and so much more in our Q&A below.
What are your earliest rugby memory?
My first memory was England vs Wales in 1999. It was at Wembley and it was a 32-31 Wales win, Scott Gibbs scored to stop England winning the Five Nations. I remember a random person just throwing me in the air. It will live long in the memory.
Who was your rugby hero growing up?
Rob Howley. I know he’s quite modern but when I was growing up I used to love watching him play. I took a lot of tips from him.
When did you first get involved in the sport?
It wasn’t until I was 14 or 15 when I started playing in Cardiff. Then I went to university in Plymouth and went over to play in Ireland after that. It was great to learn about different levels of the sport in each country.
What position did you play when you were younger?
I played scrum-half. I started off as a full-back and I’ve played wing over the years but scrum-half was my main position.
What other sports do you enjoy?
I’m a big golf fan but I’m not very good at it. I love to play different sports. I played a bit of cricket when I was a kid but not for a while now.
What do you like to do outside rugby?
I am grade eight on the violin. I used to play a lot when I was young and that’s probably the reason why I didn’t go into rugby until I was a teenager. My violin teacher was the mother of the TV presenter Gethin Jones!
If you could invite five people to a dinner party, who would you choose?
John Legend, for a bit of music. Jamie Oliver – he’ll have the food covered. Ed Sheeran for some more music. Then Cameron Diaz, for sure, and finally Rihanna. I guess that makes it a lot of musicians but I’m sure it would a good night.
If you could change one rugby law, what would it be?
Maybe condensing the TMO protocol so there’s fewer stoppages in the game and ensure more decisions are made on the ground. The refs want to work hard and back themselves.
If money were no object, where in the world would you like to visit?
I’d love to go to the Caribbean. Maybe somewhere like Bermuda would be quite nice. Or perhaps have a yacht in St Tropez.
Tell us about your first game as a referee?
I was coaching at a school tournament when I was asked to referee a match because they were short of an official. I was only there to have a look at a few players but I ended up refereeing a game. I enjoyed it and I got a bit of advice too. I never thought I was going to go on and become a referee now. The match was Abbey School, from Tipperary vs St Mary’s Town School. It was a bit of derby actually.
When was your first Guinness PRO14 game?
It was Cardiff Blues against Zebre in September 2015. My first Challenge Cup game was Gloucester v Zebre and my first Champions Cup game was Wasps v Zebre, so there’s something about Zebre! It was a bit strange at first. Being from Cardiff, I was more worried about the perception about being a Cardiff guy but I was happy to referee anyone. You’re out there to do a job. Perception is such a big thing for a referee now.
What is your pre-match routine before a game?
I always try to arrive an hour and a half before the match. When I arrive, I relax and put a bit of music on – I like to listen to chill-out music. I’ll chat with the coaches about an hour before kick-off. I’m just getting everything laid out and if there are any focus areas for that particular game. Then I build up before the game with some dancing music. I like to wear the same boxers for each game. They’ve lasted me three years!
What do you discuss with your assistant referees ahead of a match?
It’s important to do a lot prep before the game. We look at the scrums of previous matches and if there are any trends of the props and a bit of idea what we’re going into. I would speak to them and make sure we’re all on the same page going into that game.
What advice would you give to an up-and-coming referee?
I was given the best piece of advice which was get out there and do as many games as possible. Get mud on your boots and get the experience in. Starting off doing a couple of games a week so that you get that knowledge of the game from the refereeing. It’s where you make mistakes and learn from them.
What’s the hardest part about being a referee?
The work-life balance is the biggest challenge for me with regards to traveling every weekend and missing out on a lot of family and friends’ events can be difficult.
Whilst you visit some great places, it can be difficult when you’re in airports every weekend and being away from home so much. It’s important to switch off away from refereeing and rugby when you do get downtime.
Where’s the most exotic place refereeing has taken you?
In the last six months, I’ve done Canada, US, New Zealand and Australia so that’s pretty amazing. But going to New Zealand was my favourite. It was an incredible country and it’d highly recommend it to anyone.
What is your favourite memory of refereeing a match?
I have a funny moment which went viral. My first European Champions Cup game will stick with me. I got pushed over after ten minutes and my whistle went into the mud. The whistle decide to pack in after that and it was only a few minutes later that when I needed it that I realised no noise was coming out of it! Everyone was looking at me to blow the whistle but nothing was happening. I ended up hunting around trying to find a whistle. Luckily my assistant referee had a spare.
What do you discuss with fellow referees when you get together?
We get together quite a bit for training camps. We regularly discuss the global laws of rugby. We learn a bit from the southern hemisphere boys as well. We look at the focus areas like the scrums. We go through each of the areas of the game.
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