Hawke's Bay whistleblower Kelvin Deaker is calling it quits after eight years of fulltime professional rugby refereeing.
The 43-year-old from Havelock North told Hawke's Bay Today he had made the decision to retire soon after the end of the Air New Zealand Cup season.
"My family's growing up and I needed to re-prioritise and spend time with them and travel," Deaker said from Blenheim yesterday, where he will settle with his family in January after securing a job as chief financial officer with WineWorks Ltd, New Zealand's largest contract bottler.
A former provincial B player, who picked up a whistle in his mid-20s after a knee injury in Christchurch ended his playing career, the qualified chartered accountant had already experienced one season on the national refereeing panel when he moved to the Bay in 1997 to work for Richmond Meats as a financial controller. In 2001 he turned professional, and by the end of this season was the fourth highest capped New Zealand ref for first-class (177) and test (23) matches, as well as controlling 41 Super 14 games.
Controlling the World Cup match between minnows Uruguay and Georgia at the Sydney Football Stadium in 2003 stood out as a highlight, although every test match "for some reason" seemed to have significance including the pinnacle of European rugby, the Six Nations, in the northern hemisphere.
Deaker fondly recalled the 2002 Argentina versus Australia test match at River Plate Stadium, in Buenos Aires, played in front of nearly 70,000 fans.
"It was bedlam. It wasn't like New Zealand. They whistle, scream, throw stuff and burn things. It was just a huge experience and a real indoctrination to what it's like to ref a test match."
Not being allowed to control All Black matches because of international rules, the Mandela Trophy test between Australia and South Africa in 2006 in front of about 60,000 fans was the "next best thing".
"It's good that refs run down last after the two teams have run on - not because they are cheering for us or anything - but at least it's cheers and not boos," said Deaker. He said it didn't matter how hard refs and linesmen tried, they could never have the perfect game.
"We have two eyes, two legs and 22 cameras. Technology has become a problem because there's more and more analysis and more refs getting caught out," he said, claiming rugby was becoming like American Football where the "whole ethos is gone".
"There's money involved and sponsors want winners, and it's so big it's destroyed grassroots and provincial rugby."
Club rugby officials were also victims of money with "older guys disappearing" to work and support their families and "younger ones falling away too", he said.
Deaker paid tribute to his wife Meghan who had supported his refereeing career despite lengthy spells away from home. "I definitely couldn't do anything without her," said Deaker, who hopes to return to settle in the Bay someday again with their two children, Jessica, 10, and Matthew, 8.
"I have total regret leaving such a great place and we'll always be looking to come back," he said.