Refereeing one's former team mates is always a tricky call. I was assigned a Vets match at Old Paulines (OP) in which they happened to be entertaining my old playing mates. London Welsh were rarely a ref-friendly side when I played with them, largely a feature of the more rough'n'humble nature of Valleys rugby. Their past experience of me reffing came from my early days with more enthusiasm than common sense. One has to add to the mix the knowledge about the back rows handy with their fists, the one(s) happy for a bit of back-chat and the inevitable lack of grace when it comes to staying upright at the tackle. The hosts must have found it odd when most of the their oppo are on first name terms with the referee. Its best to be straight and explain, that knowing the ref works as much for a team as against.
An inauspicious start, from the kick off the ball moves close to the touchline, but no touch-flag and the knock-on is given. Wrong, everyone points out that the judge's hand is up but the flag is out sideways. Lets go back for the line-out. Shortly after, the Welsh get good line-out ball on their ten metre line, scrummy hands on; check the OPs offside line fine, Welsh outside-half kicks straight into the OPs No7 and OP run the ball back for the first score. A suitably miserable fly-half hints that there was an offside but I assure him there wasn't (he still wasn't convinced at full time).
It was an evenly matched game in which Welsh held an edge up front, but handed to many turn-overs once they moved it wide (thanks to OPs No7). The Welsh certainly looked to be finishing the stronger but were rushing things. Overall it was a good tempered game (thankfully) but was tarnished by the poor contact discipline at the breakdown. It still amazes me that blokes who have played the game for 30 years don't know when its a ruck. "But I'm the tackler!" is the usual retort, yes, but you need to get your hands on it before the ruck forms not after!
A few beers with both teams afterward and some good feedback from both sides. A more objective analysis was to come as they started a web-discussion on how to fill-in my referee report card. Better than last time was the result from my ex-team mates. A move which I hope continues because I'm covering them at home in two weeks.
The match did provide a suitable photo for this pager banner!