Bevan boils his Acme Thunderer

Tim Glover talks to the Welshman in charge of Thursday's opening game between South Africa and Australia
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The Independent Online
When South Africa play Australia to lift the lid on the third World Cup, Derek Bevan will signal the start with a blast from his Acme Thunderer. What will then interest officials the world over is not who wins but how often, and for what, Bevan will be disposed to pay lip service to the whistle.

The 24 referees have already been briefed by the International Rugby Board at a seminar in France and there was due to be another meeting with managers and coaches in Cape Town before Thursday's game. There are two areas of play that will particularly concern the men in the middle: the tackle, and its immediate consequences, and the lineout.

"They want to eradicate the awful pile-ups," Bevan said. "It was felt that referees were penalising the first culprit when very often it is the third or fourth player diving in who causes the pile-ups. They are a terrible blot on our game."

Referees were instructed to take firm action on that aspect of play in the 1991 World Cup but Bevan admitted: "Bad old habits have crept back in. Standards have dropped and I include myself in that. We fall into a trap. As a pile-up develops we can see the ball and we tell ourselves that if we let play continue for a few more seconds the ball will emerge and the game can carry on.

"The trouble is that in that time more players have arrived and the pile- up gets worse. That's when foul play can ensue out of sheer frustration. We could save ourselves some problems if we used the whistle earlier."

If Bevan, arguably the world's best referee, fully understands and supports the need to keep the game alive he is less certain of the effectiveness of the latest move to disentangle the lineout. Anybody who steps out of the lineout will be penalised and lifting will also be outlawed.

"Players will now have to form up with half a metre separating them either side of the line of touch. Therefore they should be a metre apart. I don't know if this will improve things. Under the old system players tended to concentrate on helping their own jumper rather than disrupting the play of the opposing lineout forwards.

"It is far easier to referee when prop forwards are allowed to help the jumpers. The result is that there is much cleaner possession from the lineout. Under the new law nobody will be allowed to support the jumper until he actually touches the ball but by then all he would want to do is come back down to earth."

Bevan takes a sceptical view on the question of lifting. "There is no way people can lift a 17- stone second-row forward. It's completely impossible. As far as I'm concerned the lineout is still a murky area. Still, we must do as the lawmakers say."

The referees will be assessed in every match and some of them will not get a game at all. In 1991 eight referees were completely redundant. They will be whittled down to 14 after the rounds of group matches have been completed and there will be further sifting after the quarter-finals and semi-finals.

Taking charge of the first match is another notch on Bevan's whistle, for he refereed the England-Australia final at Twickenham four years ago. "It's an added responsibility because it could pave the way for what is going to happen in the rest of the tournament," Bevan said. "Everybody will be watching the first match very closely to see how the laws are interpreted and it promises to be some game on top of that."

The "big eight" countries, the four home unions and France, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, provide two referees each and Bevan's running- mate is the up-and-coming Clayton Thomas. In addition to working with the Welsh squad on the question of the laws, they have also been training with them.

"We have to pass fitness tests for the World Cup such as running 2,000 metres in a certain time," Bevan said. "It would be unfair to the players if the referees didn't look after their own levels of fitness." A 46-year-old training officer with BP Chemicals in Port Talbot, Bevan has taken charge of 26 international matches and has his name down for the WRU list for next season. "Gwyn Walters [another outstanding referee from Wales] once told me that whenever I stopped enjoying it I should get out. I haven't stopped yet."

Referees in football's Premiership receive pounds 300 a match. Their counterparts in the World Cup will get pounds 22 but they will be on full board and compensation if they are out of pocket. However, they have to buy their own whistles (this is about the only area neglected by sponsors) and Bevan will be ready for the big curtain-raiser. He cleans his Acme Thunderer by boiling it in a saucepan of water for two minutes. "It's a great blaster," he said.

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