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Thursday, October 20, 2011

The IRB Got One Right: Craig Joubert to Ref the Final

The IRB can be the whipping post for rugby fans the world over for a variety of perceived offenses. When the word came out that the South African whistle-blower will ref this Sunday's Rugby World Cup final between France and New Zealand, I cannot think of too many people who can complain about his body of work in this RWC.  I thought he showed a steady hand in the All Blacks-Wallabies semi-final, and I also felt that his work in preliminary round games was quite good.

International rugby is very different from almost any other sport that I can think of. First of all, rugby is a very, very difficult came to officiate: You have 30 players on the field, there is all kinds of activity going on at the breakdown and mauls, you have to keep track of who is onside and offisde-which is very fluid during the game, you have to be conscious of player safety in tackles( Alain Rolland got roasted over the coals over the game-changing red card he showed Welsh Captain Warburton) and in scrums. You have a very physical game played by players who are increasingly bigger, faster and stronger than what they were even compared players from the 1999 Rugby World Cup.(Don't believe me? Take a look at video from 1999, and compare it to what you see now)

The other thing that makes international rugby different is that the match officials are known by name, face and reputation even to the most casual fan. I don't think you see that in any other sport. One thing about the Rugby World Cup is that the IRB does not try to be politically correct and have referees from lesser rugby nations referee top-flight matches at the World Cup-unlike what you see at the FIFA World Cup.(How somebody from Mali or Uzbekistan not refereeing in a top league is given the right to call a World Cup game escapes me.) At least the referees picked for the RWC ply their trade in a Super 15, Top 14, Magner's League or Guinness Premiership Rugby competition.

I have refereed high school soccer and wrestling, so I have more than a little familiarity with the second-guessing that goes on the minute you go out to midfield/the middle of a mat and place a whistle around your neck. Like any tough job, I can appreciate when somebody does the job well. I was afraid that the IRB would balk at having Joubert referee two games in a row involving the All Blacks, but I think they got this one right.(Joubert becomes the second South African to referee a RWC Final. André Watson officiated two finals)
For those who are curious about such things, here is how the rest of the line-up looks for this weekend's Bronze Medal and Championship matches at this Rugby World Cup 2011:

Wayne Barnes-Head Official
Touch Judges: Romain Poite and George Clancy

New Zealand-France
Criag Joubert-Head Offical
Touch Judges-Alain Rolland(Also the alternate official should Joubert be incapacitated) and Nigel Owens.

Television Match Official-Guilio de Santis

Let's hope that on Monday morning, rugby fans will be talking about the play of the All Blacks or the French, and not about the competence of the referee.

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