The young IRFU referee talks Belgium, violin playing and World Cup ambitions

Referee Andrew Brace takes charge of the Calcutta Cup match this weekend. But what do we know about him? Here the IRFU official tells us all about himself, in his own words:

“I had a lot of injuries and setbacks as a player. I was losing the motivation to play and my glass ankle kept going on me. Whilst I didn’t make it into pro rugby as a player, reffing was a different avenue. It got to a stage when I was playing, coaching or reffing seven days a week. I was playing All-Ireland League and couldn’t ref at the same level. I realised I couldn’t do everything.”

“People call me ‘United Nations’. I was born in Cardiff. I’m in Ireland. I also went to Plymouth’s University of St Mark & St John for my degree.”

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“My father’s side is Belgian. I played five Tests with them. As a player I started as a nine and pushed into almost every position in the back-line. With Belgium I played on the wing. With the language barrier, back three probably suited me better.”

“After my degree in sports science and coaching, I was lucky to get set up in Ireland, with Tralee and then Old Crescent. I also managed to get some work with Munster as a coach development officer.”

“The coaching side really interested me, and Johnny Lacey was working with Munster at the time I was there. He was probably sick of me giving out about refs, so suggested I put my whistle where my mouth is.”

referee Andrew Brace

Man in the middle: refereeing England v France (Getty Images)

“When first reffing, maybe I thought everyone would be my mate. You ref teams you’d played and knew. The first year was challenging, the transition from a team environment.”

“In Europe, you go as a team of four officials – if you’re with Frank Murphy, George Clancy, Joy Neville or Sean Gallagher, you are all in the same boat. It’s good travelling with the Irish team, to have consistency.”

“I’ve learnt a lot more French now because I do think it’s important to have a few phrases. I think it’s important that you at least try. But you’ve got to be fair to both sides. It’s key people remember English is the World Rugby language.”

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“The first Tier One Test I refereed was Argentina v Wales (2018). The intensity of Test rugby is crazy. It’s completely different from any club game. Ball-in-play time is higher, rucks are quicker. Three-second rucks mean less time to process those decisions.”

“I’ve been at the World Cup as an assistant. I’ve achieved the goal of the Six Nations. Now it’s about getting to World Cup 2023 and hopefully not just being a referee. The aspiration is to be there as a knockout referee.”

“I got to grade eight on the violin. My claim to fame was I used to play with Gethin Jones – his mother, Sylvia, was my violin teacher. We were in the orchestra together.”

This article originally appeared in the January 2021 edition of Rugby World magazine.

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