The players are not the only ones using the IRB Junior World Championship 2012 in South Africa as a stepping stone to higher honours, with the Under 20 showpiece also recognised as a finishing school for the Game’s most promising referees.
IRB Referee Manager Paddy O'Brien admits that the tournament is crucial to match official development and that a number of the referees have been identified who could make the Rugby World Cup 2015 panel.
“I’m just so impressed with their attitude, their ability to learn,” explained O’Brien, who has been joined at JWC 2012 by the selection committee members Lyndon Bray, Donal Courtney, Tappe Henning and Clayton Thomas.
“This group has been outstanding and is the best group of referees we have ever had at a Junior World Championship.
“These referees, their next step is Test rugby and there are three or four from this tournament who we believe are ready for Tier 2 internationals, and if they perform well at that level then they will be looked at in their domestic rugby with an eye to Tier 1 and ultimately RWC 2015 and/or 2019.”
The match official panel for RWC 2011 in New Zealand featured a number of players to have come through the JWC pathway in recent years, including Romain Poite, Chris Pollock and Jérôme Garces, while last year’s JWC final referee Jaco Peyper refereed Australia’s loss to Scotland earlier this month.
“From a selection point of view this is the key for us. We need to see them off the field, their behaviour off the field, can they manage a team environment, can they deal with disappointment?” continued O’Brien.
“And we’re quite tough on them here. When they make a mistake or have a game that doesn’t go for them, we get them to expose it in front of their peers and actually it tells us a lot about the individual.
“We all know in this day and age that being a referee isn’t easy, they’ll be under a lot of scrutiny and they are under a lot of scrutiny here. They have responded so well to the team’s values agreed at the start of the tournament and have embraced the opportunity to grow.”
The referee handed the honour of taking charge of the 2012 final between hosts South Africa and four-time champions New Zealand before a crowd of more than 30,000 at Newlands on Friday is Greg Garner of England.
Garner has been officiating at his second IRB Junior World Championship, having taken charge of four matches in Italy last year, including one of the semi finals and the relegation play-off between Tonga and Italy.
A new level
“It was a bit of a surprise because there is a group of high calibre referees here, everyone has done Super Rugby or Heineken Cup at least, so to be lucky enough to be chosen to referee the final was amazing news. I’m stoked and really, really proud,” admitted Garner.
The Englishman believes the presence and involvement of selection committee with match officials at JWC 2012 has created a different environment to his experiences in Italy and pushed the panel to new heights.
“This year there’s a different selection committee to last year. Donal Courtney, Lyndon Bray, Clayton Thomas and Tappe Henning, and to be honest since they’ve come on board I think they’ve really stepped it up a level.
“They’ve really changed the whole ethos around how as referees we work at the tournament.
“Last year was great and I got great support from a lot of international referees, they were very supportive and they really took me on board and really tried to help me, but this year the ethos around the tournament is a lot different.
“Rather than you do your game and then it’s a bit like ‘well you did this well and that well’, it’s been a lot more about how I review my game so I’ve been a lot more reflective this year, a lot more honest with myself and I guess I’ve been better for it.”