IT’S not just club rugby players that have been held up by the coronavirus pandemic, former Dragons back Adam Hughes has been delayed in his bid to become a professional referee.

The 30-year-old from Cwmbran retired because of concussion in April, 2018 but didn’t throw away his boots.

Instead Hughes picked up a whistle, combining officiating with his job as an independent financial adviser with Niche in Newport.

The former wing/centre made 119 appearances over two spells with the Dragons that sandwiched time in England with Bristol and Exeter. Now he has the ambition of returning to that level in another role.

“The aim is to be a professional ref,” said Hughes, Argus Dragon of the Year in 2011. “I’d love to go to that next level and have made them (the WRU) aware of that.

“I said that if they think that I am good enough then I am definitely willing to put in the effort. Hopefully after the break for coronavirus I can really start jumping up the leagues.”

South Wales Argus: LIVEWIRE: Adam Hughes in his playing days for the DragonsLIVEWIRE: Adam Hughes in his playing days for the Dragons

Hughes was certainly making an impression in his bid to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Glen Jackson, Frank Murphy and Karl Dickson in swapping professional rugby for professional refereeing.

“It was going really well and I was getting some really good games. I was getting put up the leagues quite quickly and it was about when I was going to take that next step,” he said.

“I was doing games at the top of Division Two and I was ready to make the step up to Division One and the Championship at the end of last season.

“That hopefully would have led to me being in the Championship this season. I was loving it.

“I had worked my way up quite nicely but they had been exactly right in what they said. You can have the knowledge and understand the game, but what you need to do is go to the most horrible, darkest places on a Saturday afternoon and stop 30 guys from killing each other!

“You have to learn to referee and as it went on I realised what they meant by that. It’s all well and good knowing the laws of the game but it’s about managing 30 players.”

Then came the pandemic that led to the Welsh Rugby Union cancelling the 2019/20 season and putting 2020/21 on hold.

While the on-field refereeing is on pause, the work continues off it with Hughes part of training sessions and webinars.

He is learning from the best courtesy of advice from Nigel Owens, who showed him yellow at Judgement Day in 2017 – “I still contest that it was a good tackle-jackal, but obviously not!” – and hasn’t arrived as a know-it-all former pro.

South Wales Argus: OFF! Nigel Owens shows a yellow card to Adam Hughes despite the protests of Lewis EvansOFF! Nigel Owens shows a yellow card to Adam Hughes despite the protests of Lewis Evans

“I am still relatively young when it comes to reffing. I am feeling fit and have managed to lose some of the stockiness that I had when I was playing,” said Hughes, who had planned to become a commercial pilot before concussion.

“I feel more lightweight and you need that because it’s almost like being a scrum-half when you are refereeing. As a winger for the Dragons I tended to stay out there and not do much!

“I get assessed pretty much every game and you get fitness tested a lot. There are a lot of good young referees in Wales and it’s not a case of cracking on and going straight to the top because you are a former player. You have to earn it.”

Hughes had to have a thick skin when on the wing next to the terrace at Kingsholm, Ravenhill or the Arms Park and that is serving him well in club rugby: “You just have to accept that they don’t hate you, they just hate your decisions!”

And it is those calls that are dissected in great detail by those trying to help him get back to the top level of the game.

“It’s good to see how much they break the game down. As a player you have analysis but it’s even more in depth from the refereeing side,” said Hughes.

“As a referee you just have to hold your hand up and say ‘I messed up there’, more so than playing when you can probably blame other people or there are a number of mistakes.”

Perhaps in a few years Hughes will return to Rodney Parade to profit from the advice of the terrace assistants.