Mike Titcomb: International rugby referee

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The Independent Online

Mike Titcomb set new standards in rugby refereeing in the northern hemisphere in the 1960s and became widely respected as a friend of the players. He became England's youngest international official, aged 32, when he controlled the first of his eight full Tests in the 1966 Five Nations Championship, remained on the RFU international panel for a record 10 years and was given the rare honour of refereeing an England match in the RFU centenary season.

The esteem in which he was held by the players was never better demonstrated than when he organised a game to celebrate 50 years of rugby at his old school, St Brendan's College, in Bristol in 1971. Gareth Edwards, Barry John, and Mike Gibson were just some of the heroes of the triumphant 1971 Lions tour of New Zealand who turned out for the Mike Titcomb International XV.

"Mike did more to establish a rapport between players and referees than anyone I can remember. He was totally trustworthy and the kind of person you could seek out after a game and enjoy a pint with," the 1971 Lions captain John Dawes explained.

Dawes was involved in one of the most controversial incidents of Titcomb's international career during the Ireland vs Wales international in Dublin in 1968. Captaining Wales for the first time, Dawes was delighted when Titcomb awarded a drop goal to his side from the boot of Gareth Edwards.

The kick tied the scores at 6-6, yet the Irish players, along with 50,000 home fans, believed Edwards' kick had gone at least a foot wide. Play was held up for almost five minutes as irate Irish fans threw orange peel, apple cores and bottles on to the field, while a few others found their way on to the pitch and had to be frog-marched away.

"We all thought that the drop kick he had awarded earlier in the game to Ireland's Mike Gibson had been touched in flight, and shouldn't have counted. Then he gave the goal to Gareth and there was a bit of a hiatus," Dawes said. "Mike was conscious he had made a mistake and I think he got a little bit frightened. But Ireland scored a try in the end and won the match without any complaint from the Welsh team."

For his part, Titcomb was pretty pragmatic about the incident: "It was just one of those things that could have happened to anyone. I thought the ball had gone over." He needed a police escort off the field after nine minutes of injury time.

Six of Titcomb's international appearances were in Welsh matches, including the dramatic 19-18 victory over Scotland at Murrayfield in 1971, when a last-gasp try from Gerald Davies and conversion from John Taylor won the day for the men in red.

If that victory remains a part of Welsh rugby folklore, the day that Llanelli beat New Zealand 9-3 in 1972, and the ecstatic home fans drank the town dry in celebration, is another occasion to which Titcomb was central.

He was also the man in the middle when Oxford University famously beat the touring South Africans in their opening game in 1969 and refereed every major touring team that visited the UK during his career. Included in that was the capped match between England and the RFU President's XV at Twickenham in 1971 to celebrate the 100th birthday of the RFU.

Educated at St Brendan's College, he trained as a teacher at St Mary's College, Twickenham, and Bristol University. He spent the whole of his career in education in Bristol, teaching first at St Bernadette's School, then at Bristol University and finally at the Polytechnic, now the University of the West of England.

Rob Cole

Michael Herbert Titcomb, rugby referee and teacher: born Bristol 23 April 1933; married 1964 Patsy Reynolds (two sons, one daughter); died Bristol 2 May 2008.