Challenge of refereeing appeals

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It is often said refereeing is the loneliest job in sport.

So it is lucky for Nick Webster he has a good crew to look after things at home when he takes his whistle on the road.

Webster has a busy few months ahead refereeing, and also at his two farms at Enfield and Totara.

As a member of the 30-strong national squad, he will referee games in the Mitre 10 Cup, Heartland Championship, Farah Palmer Cup and Jock Hobbs national under-19 competitions.

“At this time of year we are going to be required to do a bit of refereeing around the place, so you just have to have a schedule and a system that work,” he said.

“I have a good crew and good staff so you just have to hope it all goes to plan.”

Webster refereed two Mitre 10 Cup games last year, and he already has one under his belt for 2019 – controlling the first game of the provincial competition between Southland and Northland in Invercargill last Thursday.

“In some cases, [the Mitre 10 Cup] is easier because the skill level is generally a bit better and it becomes more of a management job.

“Of course they are sometimes better at cheating.”

Mitre 10 Cup games were generally faster, which cut down on the available time to make a decision, he said.

Referees covered about 6-7km per game.

“Most rugby players are 21 these days, not 31, so they take a bit of keeping up with.”

The national referees squad meets three times a year for training, and Webster reviews all his own games online and is in regular contact with his coach, Colin Hawke.

“It is a high-performance squad and a high-performance environment so the expectation is you are a doing a professional job as an amateur.

“There is a fair bit of work goes in to make sure you get out there on Saturday and do the appropriate job.”

It is the challenge of the job that appeals to Webster, a former North Otago representative, who has been refereeing at Heartland level for the past four years.

“It keeps you involved, you get around and catch up with a few people – you are always learning something new about yourself.

“It is awesome being part of that high-performance environment. It is a lot of work and expectation, but it is rewarding when it all comes together.”

The gig involves a lot of travel – he has already been booked to referee a game between West Coast and King Country on the opening weekend of the Heartland Championship.

The following week, he will travel to Wellington to officiate in the clash between Wellington and Counties-Manukau.

Webster said he tried to referee things as they came up and, sometimes, he was unaware of the score during games.

“Getting yourself prepared and being able to make the right decisions when necessary is what the deal is.”

As for scrums, an aspect of a game that confuses even the most experienced rugby watchers, Webster said they could be hard to referee.

“Referees are always learning just as much as players and coaches.

“Not everyone has been a front-rower and it is a bit of a dark art but, like anything, once you know what you are looking for you can pick some things.

“That is not to say we get it right all the time but it is the old 80-20 rules. If you are getting it right most of the time that is a good result.”