Rugby: Rallying cry for more referees

By Ben Guild

The Bay of Plenty Rugby Union is crying out for referees after an early season shortage has led to some games being played without registered referees in control.

Referee development coordinator Paul Greenstreet says the union has about 80 qualified referees on its books - well short of the 110-120 needed to adequately cover all levels of rugby down to U14 competitions.

"We've already had games without referees last weekend - two lower grade senior games - and the high school stuff hasn't really kicked in yet," said Greenstreet.

"The top first 15 sides need referees from higher up the system - you can't just put anyone on a game between Rotorua and Tauranga Boys' College or Wesley."

Greenstreet says anyone can join a referees association, with associate referee courses taking about three hours to complete.

While rudimentary, the courses qualify referees to control fixtures up to U21 level, though a whistle blower's progress is often dictated by the time, knowledge, skills and fitness they bring to the role.

Specific professional development is held by senior referees on an ongoing basis, including a popular initiative that sees referees work midweek with players at club trainings.

"It's mutually beneficial," said Greenstreet.

"Players see the referees as not just some guy out there with a whistle, but as ordinary people who like having a chat and a beer after the game. The referees are seen as something other than guys out there trying to catch players and get a better understanding of what individual players and teams are trying to achieve." Greenstreet believes Brett Johnson to be the model of a former player who can make a rapid rise through the refereeing ranks.

His manner, athleticism, and man management skills, coupled with an impressive understanding of the game, has seen him appointed to premier games this year after only beginning officiating in 2011.

It is believed refereeing offers a way for many current and former club players to stay connected to the game.

The positions are unpaid, apart from a small amount of money for travel.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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