Fitzgibbon reaping the rewards

(IRB.COM) Saturday 21 June 2008
By Karen Bond
From Cardiff
 
 Fitzgibbon reaping the rewards
IRB Referee Manager Paddy O'Brien (R) has been impressed by Peter Fitzgibbon's performances in Wales

Peter Fitzgibbon only started refereeing because his club asked him to give it a go to enable them to fulfil their quota, but rather than simply being a stop gap he caught the bug and on Sunday will take charge of the inaugural IRB Junior World Championship final between New Zealand and England.

The Irish referee was understandably “pretty chuffed” to have been given the nod by IRB Referee Manager Paddy O’Brien to referee the final at the Liberty Stadium in Swansea as a reward for his performances in the Under 20 tournament in Wales over the last three weeks.

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“The tournament has gone well for me so I figured I might have been in contention, but obviously there are a lot of good referees, so I wouldn’t have been disappointed if I didn’t get it,” explained Fitzgibbon, who started refereeing eight years ago.

“But when you come to a tournament obviously everyone wants to referee the final, so I am pretty chuffed I have to say and I won’t celebrate just yet, just make sure I do a good job in the final.

“It is definitely the most important game I will have refereed; there is no doubt about it. It is a World Championship final. It’s England against New Zealand, two of the most powerful nations in world rugby. Northern hemisphere v southern hemisphere and it’s got all the ingredients of a great match and a great struggle.

“This season alone I have made my Heineken Cup debut and for us guys in this part of the world the Heineken Cup is vital, it’s probably our biggest competition outside of the Six Nations, so any year you make your debut in that has got to be a good year.

Clear potential for development 

“Then coming here obviously has been a bonus and to get the final is fantastic and not only for me, but for the people who have helped me all along since I started refereeing, right back to starting off refereeing kids games in Limerick a number of years ago.”

The 33-year-old is obviously aspiring to get to Test level and referee international rugby on a regular basis having made his debut in March 2006 with the Portugal v Romania fixture, but for now his focus is on the final and continuing his development.

“I love the tournament environment where you get to spend time with the team of guys and you are getting feedback all the time and you are immersed in rugby for that period of time and you learn as much in that three weeks as sometimes you might learn in six months.

“It is great for development. When you referee a game you have a performance reviewer looking at you in the game and he is going to speak to you the next day and point out maybe areas that you need to develop and work on and then you get an opportunity two or three days later in your next game to work on it straight away.

“I definitely believe that in four games to date, from the first game to the fourth game, I have become a better referee in those four games and that is probably one of the objectives of the tournament just to get better and to improve.

Huge learning experience 

“I have learned a lot and the great thing about it is you get to referee a lot of different nations and nations you don’t normally referee and you see their approach and their style and it really stands out the different approaches of all the different countries.

“Everyone plays rugby their way and for me it has really opened my mind to how different teams approach things, how well organised all teams are at this level and you just have to do a professional job as a referee, you can’t leave anything to chance.

“Every game, no matter who is playing takes huge attention and the most important people out there are the players and that is why the referee is there just to facilitate them and make sure they can go and play rugby in a safe environment and fair environment.

“That is what I will take out of it and hopefully going forward I will be able to use the experiences if I am lucky enough to make the next step up to Test level I will certainly be keeping an open mind.”

Fitzgibbon has certainly caught the eye of O’Brien and the IRB Selectors for his performances in Wales, with the IRB Referee Manager adamant that “he thoroughly deserves his place to referee the final.”

“He has had an exceptional tournament. He is a young man that has got his feet firmly on the ground,” explained O’Brien, who also singled Romain Poite of France out for individual praise and like Fitzgibbon a potential promotion to the Test Panel next year.

Huge improvement evident

“Peter has got his feet firmly on the ground and I have every bid of confidence that he will referee the final very well and show just why he is there. He is a guy with very good game understanding, a very mature individual and he refereed the play-off game in Dubai two years ago and we have just seen this huge improvement. So we are delighted for him and I think he is a great credit to himself and his Union.

“Peter has got his lovely feeling for the game, he just knows what is in front of him, he knows when to pull the ropes in, knows when to let it go. We have got two outstanding teams England and New Zealand in the final and I just know he will contribute so that the people won’t be disappointed with the end product.”

O’Brien is also pleased with how the match officials have performed overall in the inaugural IRB Junior World Championship, a tournament he admits has seen an “exceptional” standard of play from the world’s best player at Under 20 level.

“It has been very successful. I think it is fantastic that we have got a tournament now where we clearly bring in the 10 referees who we think have got the potential to be international referees.

“So we are actually dealing with referees with a lot of experience and ones that we see that in the future could be 2011 or 2015 World Cup referees and we haven’t been disappointed by what we have seen.”

**Listen to live match commentary of the third place play-off between Wales and South Africa from 17:00 UK time and the Final between New Zealand and England from 19:00 on Sunday, 22 June on this website!**

**Finals day tickets are on sale at just £2 for children and £8 for adults. Fans are advised to purchase tickets for the Liberty Stadium finals day well in advance of kick-off. The Liberty Stadium Box Office is open Friday until 6pm, Saturday 10am – 4pm and from 12 noon on Sunday. Fans can also pre-book by calling 08700 400 004.**