Marlborough’s rugby referees are in good heart as the sport returns after a three-month hiatus.
Tasman Rugby Union referee education officer Dave Paterson, based in Blenheim, says there will be good numbers of referees available on both sides of the hill.
“We are in a good place. We had 25 at a meeting of the Nelson refs on Monday night last week, 21 referees at a meeting in Marlborough on Tuesday and on Wednesday we had 30 coaches and referees together at a RugbySmart gathering where we covered safety, plus the new breakdown initiatives. So that was really positive.
“We are pretty lucky here. Historically on this side of the hill we have been able to provide refs down to under-11, under-12 games which is brilliant, because in many other parts of the country you won’t get an official ref below under-14 level.”
Two familiar faces will be missing from senior ranks this year, with regular officials Dave Woodhouse and Mark Andrell both injured and out for the season, however some handy newcomers will help fill the void.
One of the new arrivals is former top rugby league referee Hone Kareko from the North Island who has moved south and is keen to try his hand at a new code, while another is Brad Evans, from Auckland, who arrived late in the 2019 season.
Also good to go are MBC students Jacob Collins and Frank Hartland, both youngsters showing plenty of early promise.
Meanwhile, in Nelson, former All Black Kane Hames made his premier refereeing debut just before lockdown, while former MBC head prefect Ben Alexander is expected to step up to that level soon.
“With guys like Mark and Dave out this season it opens up opportunities for newer guys to come through and I think it is important to give them some opportunities, get right in behind them,” said Dave.
He is particularly excited by the fact that no refs have decided not to participate this season because of COVID-19. “They are all very keen to get out there … chomping at the bit really.”
With junior rugby not starting until July 25, Dave is hoping to keep as many referees involved as possible by appointing them to sideline duties in forthcoming women’s and potentially division two competitions.
The opening games of Super Rugby have been punctuated by a steady stream of penalties as teams struggled to adapt to more rigorous policing of the breakdown and offside line.
Dave says the new interpretations have been discussed locally and the consensus was simple. “We want to referee it so that teams can get good, quick ball and keep the space open from phase play.”
Despite the disciplinary issues at the top level, he doesn’t expect there to be a massive penalty count in the opening club matches.
“It’s about adjusting to the referee’s interpretations.
“We have a common sense approach to [the breakdown] … we are looking at intent – players staying on your feet, not coming in from the side or sealing the ball off – if that’s coached, and they get that pretty well right, there will be a lot less penalties.
“I think you’ll see within two or three weeks that coaches and players will be saying that the game is a lot better.”