Alain Rolland will referee his last international match this weekend in Cardiff when Wales take on France in the 6 Nations…

It started with a trip across the Irish Sea to Cardiff in 2001 and it will finish the same way. During those intervening years, Alain Rolland has become one of the most respected and admired match officials of the modern era over the course of an international career that will come to an end this Friday night for what will be his 66th Test match.

His first international nearly 13 years ago ended with an 81-9 victory for the home team over Romania and while Wales may not have things quite so easy on Friday against France, Rolland will still be applying his vast experience, empathy for the game and attention to detail to ensure a fair contest for the players.

Having won three caps as a sniping scrum-half for his native Ireland, Rolland took to refereeing naturally and soon progressed through the ranks in Leinster, Ireland and, eventually, on to the international stage. His career as a match official includes appearances at three Rugby World Cups (2003-2011), the undoubted highlight being his selection for the RWC 2007 final between South Africa and England in Paris.

IRB High-Performance Match Officials Manager Joël Jutge said: “The match between Wales and France in Cardiff will be the final Test for one of the modern game’s greatest referees. It is also a fitting place to end because the Millennium Stadium is where Alain started his international career and he has always loved refereeing there. He has huge respect for the traditions of rugby in both Wales and France and admires the style in which the game is played there.”

“Alain has always taken his refereeing extremely seriously. He adopted a mature and professional approach which has enabled him to continue to improve. Certainly, the highlight of his career was the Rugby World Cup 2007 final. But rather than rest on his laurels, Alain continued to apply the highest standards to his own game. Even at the age of 47, he remains one of the fittest match officials on the panel and he is an honest self-reviewer, his own strictest critic.”

“Rugby is a sport where the role of the referee is respected. Match officials provide an essential service to the Game and I’m sure that all true rugby lovers around the world will join me in congratulating Alain on a wonderful career and wishing him well for the future.”

The tributes are not confined to Rolland’s peers or other referees. Agustín Pichot, another scrum-half, who was capped 71 times for Argentina, said: “It always feels great when an ex-player referees your team. I always felt Alain spoke the same language as the players and understood the game so well.”

“Alain was always fair and a very confident referee. I always liked that about him, he understood the emotional part from players and that is something that the referees should always have. It is not all about rules and ruling them, it’s about the game, the feelings that go into each move or play. He always understood that, and when he got things wrong he tried to do them better the next time.”

“Referees come under pressure to perform but we as the Rugby community need to make sure we respect them and support them. I hope that Alain stays with Rugby, he has made a massive contribution to our game and is a great referee but most important he has written a history of success and respect among players and coaches all over the world.”

England head coach Stuart Lancaster said: “Alain is widely regarded as one of the top referees in the world and on behalf of the England team and the RFU I’d like to wish him the very best in his deserved retirement.”

In his home Union, Rolland is revered as a refereeing giant, someone who rose to the top on merit off the back of hard work, dedication and a passion for the game that has never waned.

Director of Referees at the Irish Rugby Football Union Owen Doyle said: “In a wonderful career, Alain’s feet have always remained firmly on the ground, believing that his role is, simply, to facilitate both teams by applying the Laws fairly and equitably irrespective of the occasion.”

“His natural instinct and feel for the game, developed during his playing days for Leinster and Ireland, became huge assets in a career of longevity and the highest achievement. He has always been extremely generous in offering his advice and experience to fellow elite referees and also in giving his time to encourage newcomers.”

“Alain has chosen to finish and he does so right at the top level. It has been a huge pleasure working with him and he leaves the stage having made an immense contribution to the game – a true leader and role model.”