Rugby referees' feature - 'Twts' takes pride in his rugby refereeing!

Eirian Edwards and Andrew Thomas

Rugby Referees' Feature

Andrew Thomas has been a rugby referee for 15 years after previously playing the game for his home club Crymych and for others when his college days and work took him elsewhere – as well as being a coach in the junior section when he finally returned home to the family farm.
He farms at Tegryn, near Crymych, and is known to all as ‘Twts’; which relates to the fact that he is certainly not the tallest player or match official in our county.

Family matters

Indeed, he readily admits that everyone calls him ‘Twts’, including his partner Elin, who has always provided him with great support – and it is only his mum Dawn and dad Iori and who call him by the name they chose for him 53 years ago!
He and Elin have a son Meirion (11) who plays at prop in a team which Twts is coaching and his stepson Deiniol (17) was also coached by him from under 7 to under 16 levels as a useful full back. Deiniol also plays in midfield for Crymych FC and was only 16 years 10 days when he turned out for them in the club’s first-ever game in the Ceredigion League a couple of years back. Meirion also enjoys his football and plays full back for Boncath under 11s.

Early days as a player

When he was in school, Twts played rugby for Ysgol y Preseli as a winger or what he jokingly calls a ‘non-tackling’ full back as he invariably came up against much bigger opposition!
When he left school he joined Crymych Youth and added,
“To be honest I went along to make up the numbers but I somehow got my share of starts - and the same can be said about my time in college in Aberystwyth and then in Cardiff with Llandaff RFC for a couple of seasons, playing in their second or third teams.

Caerphilly next – then back to Parc Lloyd Thomas

“Then it was on to Caerphilly for six seasons and I again played mainly second or third team rugby at an exciting time when they climbed up the pyramid of Welsh Rugby and had a fanatical following.
“I can tell you it was quite an experience for a little feller from the little village of Tegryn and I enjoyed myself playing rugby before I was in my early 30s and pleased to return to my home club.
“I had a handful of first team appearances and captained the seconds for three seasons before I knew it was time to pack up because I was starting to carry injuries.

Twts takes up refereeing

“By then I had started helping out with coaching in the junior section and Robin Davies asked me to referee some games when there were no match officials available on a Sunday morning – and so I went on a Level One Course in Haverfordwest where Nigel Owens took the course.
“He did a great job of starting us off in the reffing and my only regret now is that I didn’t start sooner.”
Then Twts was approached by Eirian Edwards, the fixture secretary of the Pembrokeshire Society of Rugby Union Referees, and asked him to consider widening his involvement by officiating at youth and then seconds’ matches on Saturdays – and Twts agreed to give it a go after Eirian had even given him his spare whistle as an act of good faith!

Letting the game flow

An interesting start as time seemed to stand still

“My first match was a so-called ‘friendly’ between the youth teams of Whitland and Newcastle Emlyn – but it wasn’t quite that because both sides had plenty of testosterone on display and I had to keep my eyes peeled because it was played with such physicality and pace, despite the heavy rain that came on before the start..
“But my biggest problem came after 30 minutes when I discovered that my watch wasn’t water-resistant and had stopped working – so I guessed when half-time should be and managed to borrow a replacement from Emlyn coach Tudor Harries.
“I learned that day to make sure of being prepared for every eventuality and had a new waterproof time-piece ready for my next game!”

A game to forget as he found a new friend!

Twts would say that he has really enjoyed being a ref at most matches but on the rare negative side he might recall a long trip to the Pontypool area to referee a local derby between New Panteg and Trefil in the old division six when the National Leagues had started.
“I gave both teams my usual pre-match pep talk about discipline and playing to my whistle but literally from the kick-off there was a high tackle and 29 players piled into each other as a mass punch-up started.
“I say 29 because as I blew my whistle to try and stop them in their tracks I was aware of a lone Trefil back standing at my shoulder – and he pursed his lips before saying,
“How are we going to sort this out, ref?””
“When the chaos subsided I called the teams together and told them I hadn’t driven a round trip of over 200 miles to see that happen and any more nonsense I’d be off – and it gradually settled, although I was glad when it was all over.”

Some top games to remember – including cup finals

After regular assessments Twts was promoted to referee in Wales’ league pyramid and the highest he’s been so far is a Division Three tussle between Cardigan and Llanybydder – and it was very enjoyable because both teams played at pace and it was nice that some of the younger Cardigan players remembered him from their youth days.
Twts has also been involved in several cup finals, including the Pembrokeshire Youth Cup Final between Whitland Aberystwyth, which was played at Aberaeron.
Another big honour was being invited to take charge at the Carmarthen Tyres Cup Final, which features all the top clubs’ second teams in South West Wales, with Whitland taking on Llandovery at the Oval at Carmarthen Park.

“My old Crymych pal Robin Davies was coaching Whitland and it turned out to be a tough, uncompromising match before they lost to Llandovery.
“Then there was the Pembrokeshire Junior Union Cup Final between Pembroke and Whitland, which the latter team won at Pembroke Dock Quins, so I’ve been very lucky with being involved in them all.”

Keeps up with play

Loves Junior Finals Day

Outside of his regular refereeing, Twts would list the Junior Finals Day as one of his favourite times, initially with coaching and now as the man in the middle.
“It is great to see so many talented youngsters working with eager coaches and watched by their excited families in an annual event so well run by Ken Davies and Sarah Hill, herself a former rugby referee.
“The junior team I last coached in Crymych appeared in four finals over the six years we were together, winning two and missing out in the others to Tenby twice, who were our main rivals at the time.
“I am the club’s junior secretary, working alongside Delyth Bryan as an excellent junior fixture secretary – and I am also on the club’s management committee.

In control

Major local influences

Ask Twts for major influences in his reffing career and he would be quick to name Eirian Edwards alongside Andrew Miles, Chris Oliver, John Griffiths, Tony Pratt, Colin Phillips and Paddy Byrne.

“It was Eirian who first took me to a meeting of the Pembrokeshire Society of Rugby Union Referees and all the others have played influential roles there – and the whole ethos is one of support and willingness to help other referees.
“You are told right from the outset to ask any questions, no matter how trivial they might seem, and everyone rallies round with suggestions based on their own experiences. We also have guest speakers, often top officials from ‘up the line’ – and there is a great sense of camaraderie there.
“There is so much more support for newcomers than there was when I started out and my message is clear, it is a great way for former players to give something back to a game they love – and to youngsters who love being involved but find the physicality too much it is the next best thing to playing.
“If they have the commitment and willingness to learn they can go right to the top, as Nigel Owens and others like Clive Norling. Derek Bevan and Nigel Whitehouse have done in the past!”

Twts sets a scrum