IRB Nations Cup
By Chris Thau
Over the three match days of the IRB Nations Cup in Bucharest it is not only the players and coaches coming under scrutiny and putting themselves forward for higher honours.
IRB Referee Manager Paddy O’Brien paid a visit to Romania's capital shortly before the tournament started and underlined that refereeing standards in tournaments of this size and significance have to be high.
O’Brien was in Bucharest specifically to brief the management of the Romanian national side, the last to qualify for Rugby World Cup 2011. His exact brief was to address the main aspects of refereeing policy and practice to be applied in New Zealand during the World Cup, but in reality the briefing - attended by all three tournament referees, the touch judges and all participating teams - turned out to be a far-reaching dialogue on the standards, consistency and performance at Rugby World Cups, with an immediate impact on the Nations Cup.
“Paddy O’Brien's briefing has injected a degree of urgency into the refereeing side of the tournament and that was reflected in impressive performances on the opening day,” said the IRB's Head of Development and Performance, Mark Egan, who attended the opening round of the competition.
“The standard of appointments in this year’s Tournament is very high, with referees of proven ability from the French elite Top 14, English Premiership and with experience of Heineken Cup, and Amlin Challenge matches."
Bertie Smith, IRB Nations Cup Tournament Referee Manager and himself a former Irish International referee, agreed: "IRB Nations Cup provides a significant step on the pathway to higher international honours,” he said.
One case in point is 33-year-old Jerome Garces. Having officiated at several high profile age grade tournaments and made a successful tour of duty in both the Amlin and Heineken Cups, Garces is one of the rising stars of French refereeing.
Coached by former French test referee Joel Jutge, he has already booked a place as an assistant referee at the World Cup in New Zealand and is described by French referees manager, Didier Mene, as a “referee of great potential, whose performances demonstrate his capacity to reach the top of the international scale.”
The other French referee in the IRB Nations Cup tournament is 34-year-old Pascal Gauzere, who made his debut in the French elite Top 14 in 2007, having started refereeing as a pastime in 1998.
He has since become a regular in the highly competitive French Top 14, went on doing matches in the Amlin and Heineken Cups and has added a few non-test internationals to his burgeoning portfolio. His ability, overall consistency and flair have seen him going up the ranks and Bucharest 2011 should provide in his words “an opportunity to carry on making progress with my game.”
The third tournament referee is 37-year-old Andrew Small of the RFU. Small started his refereeing career in Dunedin, New Zealand in 1993, when he had to give up playing because of injury. The New Zealand-born's first match at first class level was Manawatu v Wanganui, has since become a regular in England's Premiership but is in Bucharest to improve his “on field refereeing, putting in consistent performances during the tournament.”
Garces, Gauzere and Small are supported by a team of assistant referees including two experienced Romanian officials in Horatiu Bargaunas and Vlad Iordachescu, Spain’s up and coming Inigo Atorrasagasti - son of former Spanish test referee Inake Atorrasagasti - and Canada’s Andrew McMaster, with Romania’s Robert Diaconescu and Danut Frasineanu doing a superb job as number 4 and 5 referees.
“I'm looking forward to experiencing a high level of competitive rugby which I expect to be faster and more intense than what I usually experience," said McMaster.
"It will be a great learning opportunity to work with the other match officials, particularly three top-level international referees, to see and understand how they prepare for, and debrief after, a match. Lastly, I hope my participation here will lead to further international opportunities in the future.”