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Whistle blower . . . Nick Webster controls the Citizens Shield final earlier this year. PHOTO: CAROL EDWARDS

Plenty of North Otago people make the regular pilgrimage to Dunedin to watch rugby at Forsyth Barr Stadium.

Few get as close to the game as Nick Webster will tonight.

Webster (38), the Totara farmer and former Old Golds halfback, makes his Mitre 10 Cup refereeing debut in the game between Otago and Northland.

He steps up a level after three years on the whistle in the Heartland Championship.

“I’m certainly excited. I’m looking forward to getting into it,” Webster told the Oamaru Mail

“I imagine I will get a little bit nervous, but it’s just about putting in the preparation and doing some work to tick a few boxes.

“Being at Forsyth Barr Stadium is exciting. It’s close to home, and I’ve had a couple of runs down there already, so it’s not totally new.”

Webster has refereed about a dozen Heartland Championship games, including a semifinal last year.

He has been assistant referee for one Mitre 10 Cup game and has some idea of what challenges he will face in his debut at the higher provincial level tonight.

“The difference will probably be the pace of the game. It’ll be a bit faster than what we’re used to at Heartland level.

“That will be the main thing for me – just keeping up with some of these boys. I’m not 21 any more.”

Webster is this year part of the national referee squad, which includes about 18 whistle blowers who control Mitre 10 Cup, Heartland Championship and Farah Palmer Cup games.

The draw for referees comes out three weeks in advance, and there are never any guarantees.

“Just like being a player, selection is subject to fitness and form,” Webster said.

“If you’re not performing, they’re pretty quick to let you know.”

Webster is coached by Colin Hawke, and goes through extensive pre-game and post-game sessions with the former test referee.

He will not have long to wait to chalk up his second major appearance in the middle, as he is scheduled to referee the game between North Harbour and Bay of Plenty next Sunday.