Huw Richards meets two FE professionals who have their sights set on international sporting stardom
STUDENT director Robert Davies is a glutton for punishment. He volunteers to spend winter Saturdays outdoors in South Wales being heckled by thousands of fans who question his eyesight.
The student and threshold services director of Carmarthenshire College of Technology and Arts is one of Wales's top referees. Last month he took charge of the international match between Scotland and Italy at Murrayfield. It was his third international appointment. He has also been a touch judge for six internationals.
The 43-year-old now has his best chance of making it onto the elite international list of 28 referees who will take charge of this autumn's World Cup.
"I would love to referee in the World Cup," he says. If it were simply a matter of choosing the top 28 in the world he could be more confident - refereeing remains the one area in which Wales still matches anywhere. But the World Cup authorities will want to ensure that rugby's minor nations are represented - and he fully concurs: "I think there should be places for referees from places like Japan and Canada."
Formerly a player for Mumbles, Davies has run refereeing and further education careers in parallel since the early 1980s. While working in sales and distribution, he started teaching on a part-time basis: "I can still remember my first class - general studies from 7pm to 9pm at what used to be the West Glamorgan Institute of Higher Education."
A full-time post at Gorseinon College followed, then a move into administration as head of student matters after Gorseinon went tertiary in 1986. The move to Carmarthenshire, where he is responsible for a department of 40 people running services for 14,000 students spread across six campuses, came in 1993.
He sees some parallels between his two roles: "For both you need a sense of humour, to make sure you don't take yourself too seriously while staying in control. You have to be able to take the knocks and show a bit of resilience."
Both also require the ability to learn. Davies' accumulation of qualifications - A-levels from Swansea College, a social science degree from the Polytechnic of North London, certificate in further education teaching from West Glamorgan Institute, master of education from Swansea University and an MBA from South Bank - makes him a walking advertisement for lifelong learning. And even as an acknowledged top-flight referee he is always keen to learn more about rugby and troublesome areas of play like the scrummage: "I always make a point of talking to old prop forwards to see how much I can pick their brains about what goes on in the front row," he says.
Some top referees in England and the southern hemisphere are full-time professionals, but he isn't attracted by the idea: "I enjoy the contrast between working and playing a great deal. Refereeing is a form of relaxation for me and it would be different if it became my job."
He recognises that if the demands on him included three young children and long journeys to games - as they do for Chris White, the primary school teacher who is one of England's first full-time referees - he might view professionalism differently.
There are now financial rewards for referees - an international fee is now around pound;1,500 while a Welsh Premier League match brings in pound;250 - but this is not the prime motivation: "When I refereed the All Blacks at Bristol last season the total gate was around half a million and I was paid about pound;40. But I'd have paid a thousand pounds to referee the All Blacks. The rewards come in travelling to places you would otherwise never get to, and most importantly the friends you make all over the world."
There are also spin-offs for his college work. His advice and contacts helped with the creation of Carmarthenshire's pioneering rugby studies diploma, while the college benefits from his high profile in Llanelli, possibly the most rugby-conscious community in the British Isles.
He says: "I think it does help. It can be a bit of an icebreaker with students, or with outside bodies. If I talk to any group in this area I know there are likely to be rugby people in it, quite often people who I have refereed and a few I have sent off."