Thursday 24 May 2018

I'll crack whip early, says RWC final referee Craig Joubert

Craig Joubert. Photo: Getty Images
Craig Joubert. Photo: Getty Images

Peter Bills

THE referee for Sunday's Rugby World Cup final between France and the All Blacks says he will command players' respect early in the decisive match.

"I believe in the philosophy of being firm early on," says Craig Joubert. "It is like raising a child: they just want to know where the boundaries are. These guys are so disciplined they will react."

Joubert's appointment for the final could herald a new era for rugby. At 33, the South African represents a new generation of match officials.

But it is not just his appointment that is so important, so encouraging for the sport. It is his philosophy, his attitude.

Joubert is a breath of fresh air in the once stuffy corridors of world rugby refereeing. He has clear views about the game and about the referee's role. He does his job with a calm, unemotional tone.

Take refereeing accountability. The South African said referees should be open to the media.

"Yes, and even admit we were wrong if that was the case," he says. "I see no harm in this. Not one hour after a game because you need time to reflect, perhaps study the tape.

But maybe the next morning.

"If it helps explain situations and decisions to a wide rugby audience that may not have understood certain calls, so much the better. I think it is possible that might come into the game in the years to come. We will see.

"We are all in this game because we love it. So I don't see why there can't be a relationship between referees and the media which is open and honest."

He says modern players are clever about exploring the boundaries of the rulebook.

"Players at the top of the game are very up to speed with the laws" is his diplomatic way of putting it. "They certainly know the finer aspects of the law. They go out every weekend to see to what extent they can push the boundaries. And they will play to the latitude you give them.

"Our job is about creating an environment where boundaries are set and then they will react to them."

Joubert espouses a creed whereby respect is probably mutual. Go out and treat players like children in a schoolmasterly manner and the chances are, they'll behave as such. Treat them like adults, respect them and there is more likelihood they will respond in kind.

"You have to deliver your message authoritatively, but with respect. Treat them like men, not children. They are grown men and none of us like being treated like children."

Joubert has been refereeing since he was 16. He eschewed a playing career to focus on officiating so for someone of just 33, he has a huge amount of experience. His appointment for the final is a triumph for that strategy and a tribute to his much-loved late father, Des, also a referee, who died when Joubert was 17.

"When he died it was a tough blow to get over. I was really close to him as a man but also we shared the refereeing. I hope he is sitting up there somewhere watching. I like to think that."

Joubert is a highly professional, meticulous operator of his craft. And given his age he is likely to rewrite all refereeing records before he finishes.

On the field, the South African offers a countenance of resolute calm. But is it like the duck on water, body serene but out of sight legs going like the clappers?

"There is definitely an element of that. These occasions do get the blood pumping. Before a game, I am like the players; I get nervous and have butterflies in my stomach. But I like that, it means you are keyed up and ready for an important task.

"I think it is important players out there look to me for some level of calm, some rational thinking. If I start looking flustered and out of control it's a really bad brand to put on the game.

"I have worked hard to make sure my exterior is calm and rational. That comes with experience. Refereeing is so much about having confidence, telling yourself you have been through these experiences before. In my early days, sometimes I used to referee four games in a day so I have had a huge amount of experience."

And afterwards? The adrenalin and emotion will still be pumping into the wee small hours of Monday morning. Mentally, he says, you are shattered after a game. "But that buzz and adrenalin that has been built up all day certainly means you struggle to switch off. Going straight to sleep isn't easy even though mentally you are drained."

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