Rugby: A whistle stop tour of memories for Brian

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As the Rugby World Cup reaches its business end with the same four teams – New Zealand, Australia, France and Wales – who contested the inaugural semi-finals in the last four once again even more memories come flooding back for Edinburgh’s Brian Anderson.

Retired bank official Anderson was among the referees who helped pioneer the global event back in 1987 and as well as handling an epic tie in which France booked their final place by defeating Australia he was first reserve whistler while running the line as the All Blacks took the crown.

This time round Australia and New Zealand clash in the semis and that, too, ensures that Anderson will be turning back the clock.

“In the 1980s I refereed New Zealand versus Australia four times and, as it happens, the home team never once came out on top.

“The intensity of that fixture back then was something else and nowadays the game is far, far faster.”

Of the 19 Test matches Anderson refereed – 18 and a half when it’s recalled that his international career finished with a hamstring injury midway through a match at the 1991 World Cup – one in particular stands out for many.

That was the Australia-France semi-final in Sydney which was won by a Serge Blanco try in the final minute.

“Some critics were kind enough to describe the match as the best they’d ever seen. I remember reflecting on the result and thinking, correctly, that my refereeing colleague Kerry Fitzgerald would at least be pleased because as an Australian he would have an excellent chance of handling the final,” said Anderson, who admitted that not everyone agreed with his decision to award the winning try.

“Some claimed that there was a knock-on just before the scoring pass but from where I stood the French No 8, Laurent Rodriguez, had a ball bounce off his boot and not from his hands.”

If video analysis had been available back then Anderson would have been a reluctant user.

“When I looked at the video afterwards I could see it looked like a knock-on by Rodriguez but I was close to the incident and saw what happened; besides, I was always content to make my call and live with the consequences.”

Earlier in the tournament he’d been accused post-match by a disgruntled USA coach of “whistling his team off the park” but with time to ponder the heat-of-the-moment comment attitudes changed.

“The following day we were on a flight and a stewardess brought me a glass of champagne with a note which read ‘Brian, of all the decisions you made we’d only disagree with one – best wishes, USA coach’.

“It’s incidents like that which tend to stick in the memory, along with the fact that when I ref’d the semi I had to borrow a red jersey to avoid a colour clash between my Scottish blue one and France.

“However, I’d borrowed the strip from a Welsh refereeing colleague and in those days we wore our country’s colours. When I consulted my touch judge early on I was warned the cameras would be panning in on me and unless I wanted to display the fact I wore Welsh international jerseys I should cover my chest with my hand.”

Nowadays referees are full time and wear their own distinctive kit.

Anderson says: “I’m sure I can say that neither myself or Jim Fleming, my fellow Edinburgher who was also a touch judge at the first World Cup final, made a cent from rugby but we saw the world and certainly have no regrets about the era we operated in.

“If I have a regret it is that there are no Scottish refs at the current tournament and it is a bit of a mystery why that isn’t happening.

“I have a high regard for Peter Allan and I enjoyed watching Andrew McMenemy’s handling of the Boroughmuir-Currie match last weekend. Hopefully it will be the turn of them or others to reach top level soon.

“From what I have seen in New Zealand the positioning of some refs has been questionable in certain instances, particularly with regard to not looking back at rucks and mauls before making decisions.

“Also, it surprised me that an English referee, Wayne Barnes, was allocated Scotland-Argentina when his own country were in the same group; likewise Nigel Owens getting the Samoa-South Africa match when his country, Wales, were part of that group.

“Not for a second am I suggesting their judgement was influenced but it left them open to the possibility of an innocent mistake being taken the wrong way.

“Back in 1995 I was on the referee assessment and appointments panel and we took great care to avoid that situation.”

Anderson may jokingly describe himself as “not so much a homer as an away-er” where New Zealand-Australia matches are concerned but he is no doubt that the Auckland crowd will be cheering their local heroes to victory on Sunday – and beyond.

“Because of their culture and what rugby means to the nation I’d like to see Wales reach this final but there is only going to be one winner and that’s New Zealand,” says Anderson who, after moving out of rugby, has become a top cricket umpire, taking charge of Scotland matches against the West Indies and Pakistan in recent years.