I was overseas for work at the start of the week and unable to make our Monday night meeting, so was unable to find out my appointment until receiving a text from Danny Brown on Tuesday morning, with a message to call him.

The game I was assigned was the u/21 fixture between Karaka and Pukekohe – billed by Danny as a top of the table clash. I called Danny who gave me a rundown on the match and what he wanted from me. Player management was to be a key aspect for this fixture following an all in brawl at the end of Karakas last match.  He told me that I would have 2 ARs to assist me, which was a bonus given that I wasn’t expecting any.

Mental preparation begins at this point for me, and I start working out how I want to handle the match, and some of the finer details, such as what time I want to arrive at the ground, the time I will need to leave home to achieve this and work this into my Saturday morning routine.

Luckily it’s the school holidays so I know that my focus won’t be interrupted with my children not having sporting commitments in the morning.

My weekly training routine usually consists of 3 early morning gym sessions, plus one session of karate, but due to the travel I have had to settle for 2 gym sessions. Not ideal, but by this stage of the season I can manage with this as a minimum.

Game day arrives and early indications are that it will be fine, with a slight breeze. Conditions that should be condusive to an open flowing game, if the players want it. I follow a routine match day preparation with hydration and nutrition, trying to get as much fluid into my body as possible, prior to leaving home. Due to numerous soft tissue injuries I also ensure that I fully stretch before leaving home. So far so good for this season so fingers crossed I’ll have no issues during the match.

I leave for the game on time and arrive just after Midday. Thankfully I left a little earlier, expecting traffic problems on the Takanini onramp, and I wasn’t disappointed. Due to school holidays traffic is at a crawl and the onramp traffic lights are in action…

Arriving at the game I head to the changing rooms, where Jacques is already waiting. He advises me that he is assistant for Simon Longs game – The reserve match between Karaka and Te Kauwhata. 2 more ARs arrive – Ethan and Marty. Ethan is also on the reserve match and with no sign of the other AR, Marty and I head off for the pre match and a warm up. Having completed front row briefings for both sides, and made the toss with the captains, I then get thru a good warm up. As we are about to leave the changing rooms, the event manager (Neville) comes in and introduces himself to me. He is aware that the spotlight is on the Karaka side following the ending to their match last week, and has promised me his support should I have any issues. My intent is to treat the match as any other, and should any incidents arise, then treat these on their merits.

The game starts on time (always a bonus) and the opening passage lasts for at least 2 minutes before the first infringement. Early indications are that both sides are keen to use the ball, with some strong physical defence evident. The ground is hard and fast and the weather will not influence the game.

The first chance for points arrives inside the first 10 minutes with Pukekohe getting a penalty 25 metres out and close to the goalposts. Unfortunately their kicker hooks it wide and the score remains nil all. A few minutes later Karaka make the most of their opening shot at goal to take a 3-0 lead. Possession and territory seesaw between the 22s and its not until the 20th minute when Pukekohe post the first try – a well worked move creating a large gap for their 1st 5/8 to go thru without a hand being laid upon him beside the goalposts. No mistake is made with the conversion and Pukekohe take a 7-5 lead. They increase this with a second try, also close to the posts 8 minutes later and take a 14-3 lead. Karaka manage an unconverted try close to half time, and the 2 sides enter the break with Pukekohe in front - 14-8. So far the first half has been continuous with few penalties and the majority of action between the 22s. I have managed a couple of niggly incidents, but nothing that has had any impact on the game.

Close to half time I got caught too close to a ruck and ended up with a knee in the back of my calf. This next part will no doubt be self- incriminating, but has to be told…. I go looking for my mate Event Manager - Neville who races away and comes back with Karakas Premier physio who gets stuck into my calf and frees it up. Hopefully its not going to cause me any problems in the second half…

Unfortunately the second half does not continue with the same level of intensity or movement, and becomes very much a stop start affair. I try to use any opportunity I can to play advantage and keep the ball moving. Following personnel changes in both teams front rows, the scrums start to deteriorate. I try working with the players to improve this, but end up being caught in no-mans land… re-setting far too many scrums for my liking, frustrating both myself, and no doubt the players. I am always reluctant to award scrum penalties, but in the end am given no choice, in an effort to get some momentum back into the game, and speed it up. I can see some clear pictures, but have spent too long trying to look for underlying causes.

Territory and possession remain relatively even, with few forays into either sides red zone, and few clear cut opportunities. Defence remains strong with some good physical hits coming in from both sides. Pukekohe score a late try to take a 19-8 lead, and this ends up being the final score.

Positives for me from the game were the absence of any real foul play, with a couple of niggly episodes being managed early in the first half. The first half was also fast and open, with very few penalties.

Work ons are definitely my scrum management which has left me quite frustrated with the number of resets, despite my best efforts to find a solution. Next time I will have to move to sanction infringements much earlier.

Following my sideline duties in the premier game, comes the best part of the day, enjoying a couple of beers with my fellow referees and also catching up with some familiar faces.

Thanks to Marty for assisting me on the sideline, and the Karaka club for their hospitality.