By John Coon
Players are not the only ones looking to take their skills to the next level at the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy 2012. It is also a stage to let referees from around the world showcase their abilities and develop as match officials in a high-pressure, intense environment.
One referee was selected from each of the six rugby regions to officiate at JWRT 2012 matches in Utah. It is an outgrowth of a broader IRB referee training scheme – the Level 1-2-3 Programme. It helps rugby officials fully immerse themselves in the sport. They learn basic skills to officiate matches and hone those skills through testing and training.
Working JWRT 2012 matches is their first step from national and regional matches to the world stage. It is an experience these referees relish.
“Anytime you can be on the international stage, you've done something right to get there,” said assistant referee Leah Berard from the USA. “You've worked hard to get there and it's a reward for your hard work I would say. Having the opportunity to referee some of the top players in the world is just a fantastic experience.”
Elite training camp in Stellenbosch
Many JWRT 2012 referees previously attended the IRB talent optimisation training camp staged in Stellenbosch, South Africa. The camp is held over eight days each summer near the end of July. Camp attendees, of which Berard will be one this year, gain a rich education on the intricacies of officiating at an elite level.
The camp attendees come out of it with a new perspective on rugby and a better definition of their roles in managing the game. The goal is to prepare referees who work international tournaments with the knowledge they need. Going from regional to international tournaments is a natural progression.
“It really opens your eyes to many technical things,” said Romanian Vlad Iordachescu, who has been selected to referee the JWRT final between USA and Japan on Saturday.
Officiating in a tournament such as JWRT 2012 can be a daunting task for a referee who has never done matches outside their home region. Not only are they on a bigger stage, but these referees are also offered the opportunity to compare their abilities with those of their peers.
JWRT is a major step in a referee's career
“The whole environment creates much more pressure than back home,” said Bernd Gabbei, the IRB Referee Development Consultant. “It's a much more professional setup in the tournament environment. They put themselves under pressure because they know it's a major step in their career.”
Gabbei said the IRB worked to provide referees plenty of informational support for international tournaments. They conduct performance reviews. They offer coaching and advice on non-match days. It is a strenuous learning environment designed to make them better at doing their job.
Main points of emphasis in training include learning the finer points of game management and player management. Gabbei said the goal was to prepare referees for situations they would typically encounter in live matches and educate them on how to deal with those situations.
The referees find it helpful to have ongoing instruction on how to be a part of the game without taking over and influencing too much of the action.
“You want to manage the game,” Berard said. “It’s not just about blowing your whistle. You don't want to be seen until you need to be seen. There are times in a game when teams need to know you are there, so you can prevent and manage and regulate what is going on.”
Officials must maintain excellent fitness levels
The most challenging aspect of being a referee is keeping pace with both the evolving rules of the game and the physical evolution of the athletes. As a basic requirement, referees must be fit and they must know the game’s laws and regulations. Berard says it is worth all that hard work to have a front row seat for seeing excellent rugby.
“There are some really good athletes out there,” she said. “If you can't stay up with their play, you're not going to do the job you are put out there to do.”
Referees who come out of JWRT 2012 will have a much better idea of their abilities and enjoy an increased confidence in their rugby knowledge. They can go back to their home region or nation and take the next step in their rugby progression.
“I'm sure that I'm going home as a better referee,” Iordachescu said.
IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy 2012 Final Match Officials
Referee: Vlad Iordachescu (Romania)
Assistant Referees: Inigo Atorrasagasti (Spain) and Andrew Hosie (Canada)
By John Coon