Rugby Union: Morrison proud to be at the pressure point

The loneliest Englishman abroad is today's referee, says Steve Bale
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England's participation in the World Cup having ended with Thursday's dismal third-place defeat in Pretoria, the only English participant in this afternoon's final between South Africa and New Zealand will be the Bristol referee Ed Morrison.

It will be the his 13th international. England's failure and New Zealand's success in last Sunday's Cape Town semi-final gave him the appointment for Ellis Park and the New Zealander David Bishop the consolation game at Loftus Versfeld. "You need a lot of luck in this game and I've had my fair share in this tournament," Morrison said yesterday. "Had England beaten New Zealand I wouldn't be in this position now."

World Cup refereeing has been the subject of constant attention here, and Morrison, a 43-year-old former aerospace worker who has been unemployed since January, knows his performance will be closely scrutinised. Already he has come under fire in the Afrikaans press from Uli Schmidt, the ex- Springbok hooker.

"There has been a tremendous amount of pressure on referees during this competition," Morrison said. "For the first time since taking up refereeing I have felt that weight of responsibility. But this is an enormous honour, the highlight of any referee's career, the pinnacle of his ambition.

"To be honest, I held out no expectation for myself beyond making the cut from the original 26-strong panel to the last 14. Anything else was always going to be a bonus. When I was awarded the quarter-final between France and Ireland in Durban I was more or less satisfied."

Morrison is a former captain of Bristol Harlequins, an outside-half who stopped playing in 1981 at the age of 29 because of serious knee and neck injuries but remains with the club as fixture secretary.

He took up the whistle as soon as he ceased playing, beginning what an auspicious career in the inauspicious surroundings of Old Bristolians 3rd XV against North Bristol 3rds at Failand, which is about as far removed from Ellis Park as you could get.

That was about 500 games ago, his last one in England before coming to South Africa being the Bristol Combination Cup final between Dings Crusaders and Clevedon. "The people who played in that first match remind me to this day that they set me on the road," Morrison said. "They've never forgotten me - and I've never forgotten them."