Whether the rugby crowd is 50 or 50,000 or whichever side they are cheering for, there is one thing they generally agree on – the Referee got it wrong. Not all at the same time of course. When the Ref rules Blue is offside the Blue fans boo and question the Refs parentage. When the call goes against Red it is the Red’s supporters turn to hurl abuse while the Blue’s cheer.
So why would you be a Referee. We put that to Kāpiti based rugby referee Alastair Paton, a former winner of the trophy for best premier referee.
“I played rugby until a back injury ended that. I was the biggest arm chair critic and then one day I turned up to an under 55kg game in Wellington and was thrown straight into the deep end of refereeing. So for me it happened by default.”
Turns out that was a great result for the game as Paton has now been a Referee for the last 12 years.
“I strongly encourage players who are coming to the end of their playing days to give it a go. It’s a great way to stay involved and to give back to the game.”
On the subject of abuse from the sideline the Ref is philosophical.
“Oh yeah, we love the comments from the sideline… you learn quickly to ignore most of it and concentrate on refereeing the game. With 30 players running round there is already plenty to focus on without worrying about the sideline as well.”
“Actually I enjoy some of the to and fro from the crowd and for the most part it is good natured and sometimes some of it is funny.”
He says refereeing has helped his own personal development as well. “You learn resilience and it teaches you to make quick decisions.”
Ref Paton has been coaching referees for the last three years from Kāpiti to Foxton and says for referees the training is ongoing. “The rules change and referees have to stay ahead of the play.”
One player famous for testing the mettle of referees was All Black legend Richie McCaw.
McCaw conceded in an interview that he tested referees early “to know what you can get away with” at the breakdown.
Well known for entering rucks from offside positions McCaw believed the three or four turnovers in a game are now so crucial that his poaching work was vital.
In reference to the Referee McCaw said “I have to work out what I think is right and what he thinks is right might be different, and you have to figure it out pretty quick.”
So with the best in the business trying every trick in the book Referees need to know the book backwards.
Al Paton says there is plenty of training available but the Rugby Unions need to do more to encourage and support the Referees who are the lifeblood of the game.
Take away the referee and you won’t have much of a game, then who would the crowd have to blame for whatever goes wrong with their team.
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