Referee Review - Brandon Roberts - Mid Western vs Mid Northern

In preparation to end my 2016 club rugby season, I was appointed a Premier game; Papakura vs. Manurewa at Massey Park, at 2:45pm. At the same time I had a junior game at the same venue at a slightly earlier time of 9am. Rather than looking at it as a negative, 4 hours is a good time to have a snack and to warm-up prior to kick-offJ. However, things soon changed and I was now off to Northland on an interchange to go and experience the new law trials at the breakdown. The teams were Mid-Northern vs. Mid-Western.

Like any other week my preparation during the week remained the same – eat healthy and consume lots of fluid. I was a bit uneasy with the new laws as I did not know what to expect from the players and the game. Fortunately for me a fellow referee, Daniel O’Connell has experienced the new law in a Northland game, the week prior. As you do, I made contact with Daniel and asked him to talk me through the processes and what to expect during the game. I also looked up video clips on you-tube leading up to the game just to ensure that I understand the alterations and I interpret the law as it is intended. Having done my homework, I felt confident and excited to go on this interchange.

The next challenge was to find the venue. A few google searches and a phone call to a current Counties Manukau Rugby Referee Association (CMRRA) member and Assessor, Rob Mc Aulay, an ex-Northlander, I knew where to go. During the phone call with Rob, he mentioned that I need to take my gumboots to the grounds as it may be a ‘bit’ muddy. “Yea sure” I thought to myself, and laughed at his comment. I also got my brother to travel up with me for some company during the trip. It did cost me some pricey promises and a meal there and back. To my brother’s disgust, we woke up on Saturday morning to heavy winds and heavy rain. The look on his face said it all!! Nevertheless, we embraced the elements of nature and we drove off. Upon arrival, we were greeted by a few cows and a mud pool. Yes you guessed correct…Rob was not joking when he said “remember your gumboots”. I was pleased however, that it was not raining pre- and during the game.  

Having done my pre-match talks with the teams, I prepared myself for the 80 mins ahead. A good 15 mins of this was watching the Reserve game, seeing the new law in action. After a good warm up and lots of fluid, I was ready to tackle the game. Interesting enough, both teams tested me to see how I interpreted the law and what they could potentially get away with. They soon realised that they were not going to get away with much, so they reverted back to their old selves. The first half consisted of lots of scrums and lineouts as they were trying to create a game with the conditions at hand. A few penalties were conceded by both teams due to the fact that players went off their feet at pressured tackles and contested breakdowns. Mid Northern had the slightest upper hand on Mid-Western, leading 10 – 8 going into the second half. A reminder to the players about leaving their feet was given at halftime and any last clarifications before the second half got underway.

Both teams again changed tact and decided to play running rugby. Unfortunately the conditions weren’t ideal to execute their plans. Along with the speed increase, the tackle area became heavily contested. There were hardly any rucks in the second half due to the speed increase, which meant that defenders had to concentrate on their defensive line to avoid creating gaps for the attackers to target. The score kept fluctuating during the second half, with both teams being in front at times. It came down to a drop goal by the Mid-Western 1st V to secure the win, and an upset as they bet the top of the table team, 18 – 17.

Upon reflection on my performance, and a few phone calls and conversations with fellow referees and coaches, these experiences are something to treasure and learn from. I am always hard on myself because I know I have set goals and want to achieve them. I always seek guidance from fellow referees and coaches because that is how I learn and grow as a referee. With this being my last game for a few weeks, I am looking forward to a long awaited holiday with the family. I just want to wish all the referees the best of luck with their games leading up to the semi- finals and finals. Congratulations to those referees who will be appointed with finals!!