Fiji sevens players' high value for refs

By Peter White in Sigatoka


Auckland referees Hamish Walker and Steve Piacun will never complain again about how long it takes to get to rugby games caught in Auckland traffic after they heard about the commitment of one of their helpers at the Coral Coast Sevens under way in Sigatoka, Fiji.

Peceli Tavuto is a subs controller, in charge of ensuring replacements come and go at the right times. It means he does not get to referee games, but then again he does not get a break throughout the day.

However patience, perseverance and a passion for sevens rugby are the life mottos for the man from Toga village, one of the stops on the Sigatoka River Safari tour.

Every day to reach the tournament, Tavuto endures a minimum return journey of six hours. He leaves his village at 5.30am and swims 70m across the strong, inconsistent currents of the Singatoka River, his rugby clothes in a waterproof tube.

Tavuto then climbs over a mountain ridge, which takes about half an hour up and 15 minutes down, before he waits sometimes up to two or three hours to catch a bus, if it turns up.

After the final game is over, he repeats the process to arrive home in pitch darkness.

Asked whether the famous Sigatoka River eels bite him or not, Tavuto laughed and said he catches an eel on the way home to eat at night with a spear he carries.

Walker and Piacun are officiating at the tournament for the first time and have found the Fijian experience of massive benefit to them as referees.

They have been hugely impressed with the fast pace and physicality of the play on offer, and particularly the demeanour of the players compared to what is standard fare in New Zealand.

"The quality of rugby is very high up here, and it is a three-day tournament, which we don't get the exposure to in New Zealand," Piacun said.

"The only tournament there that is over multiple days is the nationals, over two days.

"The heat is another factor that we don't get in New Zealand, but it is really, really great that the players don't debate your calls.

"They know when a yellow card is coming and it makes our job much easier to do."

Walker has also noticed greater respect for referees and felt it was especially apparent when he blew time off to have a chat to the captains.

"In New Zealand when you blow time off to chat to the captains, nine times out of 10 they will argue the toss or try and change the subject, but up here you get 'thank you Sir, appreciate that very much' and they actually listen."

The celebrity factor is something the Coral Coast Sevens has in spades, which the Kiwi refs say has added greatly to the tournament's prestige and weighting on the crowded Fijian tournament schedule.

"Former internationals are all over the teams plus greats like Waisale Serevi, Ben Gosling and Jonah Lomu, who is tournament ambassador," Piacun said.

"In New Zealand you just don't get those sorts of players turning up to the key tournaments."

Piacun is eager to foster an exchange of refereeing skills between Fiji and New Zealand as they have different technical aspects and experiences to offer.

"The key thing is we can learn from each other to grow each other's refereeing stocks.

"I believe we can help them develop their referees to go to the next level on the fifteens circuit and they can help us assist our sevens referees go to the IRB level.

"We only have James McPhail who is on the IRB circuit, whereas they have a lot more sevens tournaments up here because they hold them for eight months of the year ...

"They have a big window and many tournaments with cash prizes on offer, which can make you quite nervous referring a game that gets down to the crunch end and you have to make a critical decision.

"You can be playing with a team's livelihood, which we just don't have down in New Zealand."

Walker is a young referee on the way up and at 27 has decided becoming a professional referee on the IRB Sevens circuit is what he wants to do.

Officiating at the Coral Coast Sevens has meant the realisation of a dream he has held for many years.

"One thing I did want to do when I first started refereeing sevens was to referee in Fiji and I have done that.

"I will always remember that now as it is pretty special up here."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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