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Man in the middle . . . Blair Malcolm controls a Citizens Shield game last season. PHOTO: CAROL EDWARDS

You can’t have rugby without referees. Blair Malcolm is one of the top whistle-blowers in North Otago and had the honour of controlling the first revived Town-Country game at the weekend. The 34-year-old son of another refereeing identity, Kevin Malcolm, talks to Hayden Meikle about a role that is essential but often unenviable.

Q: Did you play rugby to a reasonable level, Blair? What position?
Anywhere in the back row, really. I played premier rugby for Kurow and then Valley, and I did a couple of seasons over in the UK. I’d gone on an exchange to Dublin to start with and then went over to Cheltenham. It was outstanding. I loved it.

Q: How ambitious were you as a player?
Not at all, ha ha. I just chugged along at club level and was happy with that.

Q: How did you get into refereeing?
It was always my intention, to be honest, to retire from playing and try refereeing. Just because of the old man’s influence, really. I started at 30 and thought I’d do it for a year and if I didn’t like it, I would go back to playing. But I loved it. I got my first premier game at the end of that season then went to the South Island under-16 tournament. And I’ve been doing premier rugby regularly since the start of last year.

Q: Best thing about the role?
Just being involved in rugby. That’s the main thing. And you’re still part of a team, with the other referees, which I enjoy. You work together to get better.

Q: Worst thing?
The criticism, and the abuse. I think it’s decreased a fair heap from back when I was playing. But there’s still improvement to be made.

Q: How do you cope with it?
You just sort of suck it up and carry on. Sometimes it does get to you a bit. But you’re out there doing a job, and 99% of the people having a go at you wouldn’t put themselves out there to do it.

Q: Do you analyse and critique your performances?
I watch the video of every game, every week. My season goal is to become a proficient game reviewer, so I’m starting by just watching the first half of games until I get my head around exactly what I should be looking for. So I’m looking at every decision I make and my positional work. It gets quite intense. It’s really good with Colin Hawke and Nick Webster involved because they are at that next level and they have lots of feedback.

Q: Do you beat yourself up when you make a major mistake, or is it important you put it behind you?
You know sometimes when you make a mistake out there, and the players respond best if you just say, “Sorry boys, I stuffed that up.” But sometimes you just have to carry on.

Q: You father coaches Kurow. Is it awkward when you referee his team?
No, not at all. I don’t even think about it. I’m just out there to do a job, make the right decision, and be in the best position responsible.

Q: Take me back to the first game of the season. Valley v Excelsior. Nine yellow cards.
Ha ha. Yep. It wasn’t an enjoyable experience. Maybe I was over-officious. But the standard had been set, and World Rugby had passed down new guidelines about contact with the head. You try to manage situations to avoid handing out cards but sometimes you have to make the decision and go with it.

Q: What’s your day job?
I’m an apprentice sparkie. I love it. I was sharemilking up until the end of last season but I had a change of plan.

Anyone interested in learning more about rugby refereeing can contact James Symes (027 522 6470).