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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 October, 2003, 10:55 GMT 11:55 UK
Rolland the whistleblower

By Jim Stokes
BBC Sport in Perth

Alain Rolland
Rolland went from international player to referee
They say that Alain Rolland has been refereeing for 20 years, but only five with a whistle.

The 37-year-old Dubliner will achieve something this weekend he was never able to do when he was a player - participate in the Rugby World Cup.

Rolland stands apart from the rest of the tournament officials in that he is the only top-level referee who graced the international stage as a player.

It was in 1990 that Rolland made his Ireland debut against Argentina.

But instead of a fruitful international career, the talkative Leinster scrum-half added a mere two caps, and then missed out on selection for the 1991 event.

Even his presence in Australia, where he is rated as one of the top whistlers in the trade, does not make up for that disappointment.

''There's no substitute for playing,'' said Rolland, a part-time professional referee, but a Dublin mortgage broker in the real world.

Born: 22/8/1966
Nationality: Irish
Test caps: Three
Test debut: 27/10/90 v Argentina
Position: Scrum-half
Refereeing Test debut: 19/9/01 - Wales v Romania

''Everything about it is completely different. It's very hard to describe, but you just cannot compete with playing.

''On saying that, this World Cup is something special. You have different nerves, and you see yourself as a facilitator in order to keep the game flowing as best as possible."

He never exactly opted for a referee's life intentionally, not to start with anyway.

''It all started by accident really,'' said Rolland whose father is French. ''I had played for Leinster on the Saturday and had gone to Blackrock to see the Second XV playing the following day.

''On the adjacent pitch, the referee had not turned up for a game Blackrock and Lansdowne 3B's league game - a real high-powered match. Someone asked me to referee. I said, if they got me a watch and whistle, I would do it.

''Within a minute they appeared from nowhere, and there I was refereeing, officially, for the first time. I wore smelly green shorts, odd socks and a Canadian number three jersey. That was that. I got a real buzz and things just took off after that.''

The most difficult part of refereeing, I suppose, is that you are isolated
Alain Rolland

The man to sit up and take notice of a brash new recruit to the ranks was IRFU referee development officer Owen Doyle, himself a World Cup whistler.

It was the time when the provinces in Ireland were going full-time and Doyle approached Rolland about a career in reproaching players instead of vice-versa.

''At first I did find it difficult," added Rolland. "My running lines as a scrum-half were too close to the play and I was nearly inclined to get involved myself.

''There are times when you have to referee as a player, and times as a referee. Being an international player gives you a better understanding of what is being done and what players are trying to accomplish.

''I had gone through the type of the emotions these players go through. I kind of know what frame of mind these guys are in.''

Rolland was a touch-judge when his compatriot Dave McHugh was attacked and injured by the infamous pot-bellied Piet van Zyl of Potchefstroom during a Tri-Nations clash between South Africa and New Zealand.

Keeping play going

''The most difficult part of refereeing, I suppose, is that you are isolated," added Rolland. "You are on your own. While playing you have 14 other players backing you up, while as a referee if you make a mistake you cannot hide.

''There are times when you rely on your touch-judges and they are a big help, but overall, the buck stops with the guy in the middle.

''The best referees are the ones you don't notice. You want to come in, do a game and get out, with the spectators asking 'by the way who was that?'

''I like to keep the game flowing. In a way I'm a facilitator, who wants to allow players to play,'' said Rolland who will take charge of France's opening encounter with Fiji in Townsville on Saturday.

After that he will be acting as fourth official when England take on South Africa in Perth on Saturday week.

It could be an explosive affair and Rolland just might be busy facilitating the law-breakers on the touchline.

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