Win Two Heads, One Tale – a book by Welsh referees Derek Bevan and Nigel Owens
World-class Welsh referees have been thin on the ground this century, but the Principality does boast two of the seven men to have refereed a World Cup final. Between them, Derek Bevan and Nigel Owens have officiated at every World Cup bar one (2003), and in Two Heads, One Tale they get together to share their experiences.
Bevan and Owens both come from small villages in West Wales. Both were 44 when they took charge of a World Cup final (1991 and 2015 respectively), and those finals both involved Australia at Twickenham.
Bevan mentored Owens when he was climbing the ranks and the two worked together many a time as referee and TMO, with the pair initially colluding in Welsh if Bevan wanted to alert Owens to something he had missed on the field.
So, lots of similarities but huge differences too, between the amateur and professional World Cups they officiated in were metaphorically light years apart.
Today’s performance-based appointments by World Rugby didn’t exist when the first World Cup was played in 1987. Back then each country supplied two referees of their choosing and for that inaugural tournament Wales selected Bevan and Clive Norling.
When it came to the knockout stage, some referees were sent home and this news could arrive rather abruptly, as Bevan relates in a classic tale from the book.
“We were at our hotel in Auckland, sat ready for an evening meal: Fred Howard and Roger Quittenton, the two English referees, and Clive Norling and myself,” Bevan says.
“After a while the hotel Tannoy was heard. ‘Mr Fred Howard, can you come to reception please? Mr Fred Howard.’ Fred put his cutlery down and went to reception. He came back looking rather pale. He said that there was a phone call for him at reception from John Kendall-Carpenter, the chairman of the committee organising the World Cup.
“We were all anxious to know what the message was. ‘I’m going up to Brisbane,’ Fred said, ‘to run touch for Wales against New Zealand.’
“The three of us wondered if he knew what the rest of us were doing. He continued. ‘Bev,’ he said, ‘you’re going to Sydney to run touch for France against Australia…’
“Clive and Roger were really anxious by then, and wanted to know their fate. This time the questions for Fred were greeted with a deathly hush, before he eventually said, ‘You two are on the flight home next Tuesday.’
“Roger Quittenton was convinced that Fred was pulling his leg. But he soon realised he wasn’t. The night just died. No one finished their meal. I felt really sorry for the two who had to go home. The way they were told was wrong.”
But there’s a twist to the tale. “When we had arrived out there, I was a little late for the first breakfast,” continues Bevan. “I walked over to where the Welsh and English refs were at a table having breakfast and glanced at what each one was having. Roger had a full bowl of fresh-looking muesli. It looked really good and I decided I wanted some. I searched everywhere at the breakfast counter but couldn’t find any.
“I went back and asked Roger where he got it from. ‘It’s my own concoction; I get it made up for me at home,’ he said. ‘It’s very healthy and helps my concentration in matches. I’ve measured the portions out to last me the tournament, so I’m sorry I can’t give you any.’
“So, at that table in Auckland, when we had our last supper and Roger was mortified that he was being sent home, so much so in fact that he started to cry, he turned to me and said, ‘Derek, haven’t you got anything to say?’
“I was a little lost for words for a while before saying, ‘Do you know that muesli you had…’ He looked at me in total disbelief!”
Perhaps inevitably, the best stories in the book come from the amateur days when Bevan, a former Vardre flanker and captain, was in his pomp. He began refereeing after a coal-mine accident forced him to avoid contact sports for two years, and it’s remarkable to think that between the first two World Cups he refereed only five Test matches.
He and Owens developed a thick skin the hard way. Owens recalls how, refereeing a men’s game at the age of 16, the South Wales Police team walked off in protest at his decisions. It hadn’t helped that they had seen him arrive on the opposition’s (Cefneithin) bus.
For Bevan’s part, his sending-off of a Penclawdd player, Richard Jones, in a youth cup tie, thus ruling the player out of a Welsh trial the following week, so angered the club’s treasurer that he threw his expenses (six shillings) on the changing-room floor.
On another occasion, Gorseinon players turned their back on Bevan, instead of clapping him off at the end of the match. “That was a tough lesson. I had thought I was above that game and that I was too good for it. That attitude came out on the pitch.”
Owens cites one of the best tips he’s ever received, given to him by Eldon Lewis, the Pontyberem club secretary for many years.
“I was 17 and I’d only just started reffing. He said, quite simply, never referee a game with the whistle too close to your lips. He gave the example of Gwynne Walters, a former international ref. He usually wore a blazer when reffing and kept the whistle in a blazer pocket. That meant there was a delay between seeing an incident, reaching for the whistle, and blowing it.
“That delay, Eldon said, gave him time to reflect and quite often he wouldn’t blow his whistle as a result. Since then, I’ve held my whistle very low down to avoid the temptation of getting too whistle happy.”
Bevan and Owens both reached the top of their profession. Like the rest of us, they’ve made mistakes, including in the World Cup finals they officiated. Owens irked the Wallabies by missing a forward pass by Nehe Milner-Skudder in 2015, a game won fairly convincingly by the All Blacks.
Bevan’s failure not to award England a penalty try in 1991, after David Campese stuck out a hand to stop Peter Winterbottom’s pass to Rory Underwood, was far more significant.
“I was happy that there was sufficient cover not to award the penalty try, and I awarded a penalty only,” he says. Click here to see if you agree – the incident starts at about 10:40 in the highlights video. Our verdict? If that pass had reached Underwood, no one was catching him!
Such incidents are part of the rich drama and history of our sport, to which Bevan and Owens have contributed hugely.
Derek and Nigel: Two Heads, One Tale, written in conjunction with Alun Gibbard, is published by Y Lolfa, RRP £7.99. You can buy it here.
The publishers have kindly provided us with six copies to give away in a competition. For a chance to win one, look at the photo below and answer the question beneath it, filling in your details. The competition closes on Wednesday 2 January.
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The competition closes at 23.59pm on Wednesday 2 January 2019.
Six winners will be selected at random, each winning a copy of the book, Derek and Nigel: Two Heads, One Tale.
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