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Rowlands recalls heady days for Welsh referees.

Byline: By Howard Evans

The sight of Ken Rowlands, from Ynysybwl, at Welsh rugby grounds this season has posted a reminder of an age in which Wales had a huge element of top referees in world rugby.

'I refereed for 28 years,' said Rowlands.

'And I was lucky to be in that glorious '70s era when we had great players and many top referees.

'Men such as Meirion Joseph, Ron Lewis, Jeff Kelleher, Corris Thomas, Cenydd Thomas, Winston Jones, Denzil Lloyd and Alun Richards were all splendid.'

Rowlands was thrust into refereeing after what he called 'Being not good enough as a player for Ynysybwl and a shortage at youth level saw him forced to take the whistle.

'But I enjoyed it and I thought I was good at it,' he said.

'I like to think that others also thought I was good enough for after two seasons at district level I made a rise to senior teams.

'A year on the WRU list and I was refereeing top clubs, though I was on the Ynysybwl committee, had two children and was a colliery worker.

'I began by tucking my trousers into my socks and years later became the first Referees Development Officer, then Director of Referees for the WRU for 10 years.'

Rowlands followed in the line of great Welshmen, such as Albert Freethy - who sent off New Zealander Cyril Brownlee against England and controlled the 1924 Olympic final - and Major Tommy Vile. Then came Ivor David, of Neath, and Trevor Jones, from Maesteg, who went through the war years.

Rowlands rated Meirion Joseph as one of the all-time best in Wales, but Derek Bevan, Gwynne Walters, Clive Norling, Clayton Thomas and Les Peard were other top whistlers with Ernie Lewis, father of former WRU chief executive Steve.

'It was an era with games such as the Floodlight Competition and my first B international was in 1971,' he added.

'I had to wait until 1980 for my first test, then I was the first neutral to go to Moscow for a Russia-France game and I went to South Africa for two Tests against South America.

'I was on the Five Nations exchange list and finished in 1986 with four Tests in South Africa against the New Zealand Cavaliers.

'I was lucky to control games on three Australian tours of Britain, two by New Zealand and those by countries such as Fiji, Tonga and Japan.'

It is certainly harder for today's Welsh referee to break into the top spots with Southern Hemisphere whistlers taking many Northern Hemisphere international matches and the game becoming controlled by legal men from the IRB.

Nevertheless, Huw Watkins, Nigel Owens and Nigel Whitehouse lead the current crop, with Cardiff producing men such as Gareth Simmonds, Gwyn Morris, David Bodilly, Barry Gregory, Ken Brackston, Neil Ballard and Keri Evans, even if the latter is originally from West Wales.

TWO matches lined up for Wednesday, January 17, are at Caerphilly, where the Wales Clubs (Div 1-5) side take on Wales Under-20s and at Penarth, where the Welsh Academicals meet the British Army.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jan 9, 2007
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