Birthday boy Ernie Lewis proud to be on new honours board for referees
2:02pm Wednesday 23rd October 2013 in National Rugby
THE oldest living Welsh international referee made a birthday visit to the Millennium Stadium to view the new international honours board erected for Welsh referees earlier this year.
Ernie Lewis officiated at the France v Australia international in Toulouse in December 1971 and celebrated his 90th birthday on Tuesday.
A former teacher at Abertillery Grammar-Technical School, Lewis enjoyed a successful career as a top flight rugby player before turning to refereeing. He played briefly for Newport, but spent most of his career with his home town club Abertillery and Ebbw Vale.
Lewis was prolific in his time with the Steelmen, setting points records in 1949/50 and 1950/51 and his 198 total in 1951/52, when Ebbw were crowned champions, made him the leading scorer in Wales that season. His son, former WRU chief executive Steve, broke his record in 1974/75.
He became one of the leading outside halves in Wales and was a regular member of the Monmouthshire County side and was awarded his county cap. He played against Australia (1947) and New Zealand (1953) for a combined Abertillery and Cross Keys side, both games at Abertillery Park.
Lewis took up refereeing in 1956 and quickly established himself as one of the leading referees in the game, the highlight being the international cap.
He refereed many Barbarians games and was touch judge at many international games including the 1973 Barbarians v New Zealand game – he was the closest man on the pitch to Gareth Edwards when he scored 'that' try - and many other games involving touring sides.
His recollections of the France v Australia match are clear, and not all rosy: "It was the first of two Tests on the Australian tour of France.
"Unfortunately, there was a recent history of bad blood between the two sides and neither team wanted to play rugby on the day. It was not a comfortable place to be, and I had to deal with several unsavoury incidents.
"When I awarded an important penalty to the Aussies the crowd began to stir and when the game ended with France losing 13 - 11 I needed a police escort to get to the dressing room."
Mr Lewis believes that most of the advances in the game are for the better: "The game has changed for referees in many ways for the better, most obviously the technical advances and the assistance of, what were previously called the linesmen in getting decisions right – that so important in the professional age.
"In my day the ref was on his own and the linesman was there purely to indicate where the ball had gone out of play and whose throw-in it was.
"Unfortunately, I think some of the fun has gone out of the game and there is little opportunity for some of the respectful and often humorous banter that used to go on during the game between players and refs.
"The law-makers must protect the respect of the referee at all costs."
After retiring as a referee, Lewis went on to become a WRU referee assessor and president of the Welsh Society of Rugby Referees.
Steve Lewis, who accompanied his father to the Millennium Stadium said: "The creation of the international referees board in the Millennium Stadium to mirror the international players board is a great move by the WRU.
"Throughout the years Wales has consistently produced some of the finest referees in the world and I am extremely proud to see dad's name recognised on the board with other great referees and which will stand for the life of the game."
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