David Flatman: Hors play will flow with this prop turned ref

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The Independent Online

We were recently asked, as part of a psychological profile, to name anyone we regarded as heroes. My first answer was, of course, Dad, but my second answer was less predictable; Pete Allen was my school rugby coach. I seem to remember him being a good coach but, looking back, that does not seem as important as you might imagine. Whatever he had, we played for him and loved him. There were times – in big, close games – when I truly believe we'd have died for that man.

He was our mate but also our boss and knew us all as well as he might have known his own children. However, there was a line of familiarity we dared not cross, he was still the governor. There was no complaining and very little moaning in our team then. Pete told us once that if we were to arrive at his door with a problem we had better have a solution in mind, too, otherwise we were wasting his valuable time (which he spent mostly drinking staff-room coffee and trying in vain to prise us from the weights room and return us to double French). In 10 years, that team never lost a single game. So when he spoke we listened.

Being the teacher's pet, I never truly came to experience the wrath of the rugby master scorned, but I know a man who did. Our openside flanker was a psychopath. For a schoolboy he possessed almost unnatural levels of aggression and this usually worked in our favour, terrifying the more normal 17-year-olds on the school circuit along with their poor parents who had to watch them being legally assaulted from behind the rope. One day though, he swore at the referee. This did not go down well. Pete arrived in the changing room with a face like a plum tomato and proceeded to explode. Respect was his message; respect every man who turns up on time and does his job as well as he can.

Chris Horsman, the former Worcester and Wales tighthead prop, has decided to cross that line of familiarity by becoming a referee. He has decided to position himself firmly in the firing line of the emotional and seemingly omniscient rugby player. Never one to give the officials an easy afternoon, Horsman will now be the blamed, the accused, the terminally biased, incompetent and erroneous. Every decision he makes will be critiqued and contested – though not too aggressively; this is rugger, remember, not football – more forensically than usually it might.

Of course, he knows this and will be prepared, but for him the presence of rugby, of performance and of pressure on a Saturday makes it worth the trouble. Having something to do on those free weekends when there is nobody to tackle, nobody to fight for and nobody with whom to celebrate is often so vital once the sporting dream comes to an end. Horsman has intelligently sidestepped the Stan Collymore ending (satiating the thirst for a weekend buzz by finding ways to annoy, offend and let down people wherever possible) by giving himself a unique challenge.

As a loosehead prop, I believe I know the main aim of your average tighthead; seek to engage just before being told to do so and head as readily as possible toward the hooker. The big lump opposite is invariably stronger than the lighter, more mobile man to his right so he is worth avoiding at all costs (this is what "boring in" means). By training and becoming a referee, Horsman has refused to be typecast. He has, for the first time in a while, not chosen the path of least resistance. Instead, the obstinate man we once saw thumping around the rugby fields of Europe has opted to assail this task head on. So the black cloud of a question ("what are you planning to do after rugby?") that lingers over the heads of all men of the oval ball like the Grim Reaper, winking at you, scythe in hand to symbolise the real world and threaten what it might – or might not – hold has been answered. A severe, unrelenting neck injury presented him with a problem, but before whingeing to teacher, he provided a solution.

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