Are Rugby Refs “Tough Enough?” (Answer – Yeah probably)

Recently the team over at IRB’s “Total Rugby” podcast asked the question that almost every rugby player has probably asked at least once while playing the game, although in probably not as polite terms – Are the referees really fit enough to keep up with the game? (I haven’t heard the entire podcast yet, as I’m still playing catch up with the rugby podcast world)

That’s a good question, because the game is fast enough these days that if the refereeing crew might miss important calls if they aren’t fit enough.  Keep in mind I said “might miss,” there’s no guarantee they would be able to catch those calls anyway.

Fitness is important for officials, probably more so than for the players on the field – but one question I have is – Are we picking the top, younger referees able to keep up with the play on the field, and are we keeping our top, more experienced officials in top shape?  From what I remember in our local union, there’s always been a shortage of referees, and they did a great job of keeping themselves in as much shape as possible, but at the end of the day they were responsible for keeping themselves in shape.

Some of the questions that have come to mind thinking about this are:

  • Is it worth it to have referees go through physical training with comparable level teams in their area? For example, should international-level referees be jumping in to international team fitness sessions to stay in shape for their matches?  
  • Is that even an idea worth considering at the end of the day? 
  • Will they get too accustomed to the players on the team and start to subconsciously make calls in favor of their “training mates?”
  • Would international teams even allow referees to fitness train with them?
  • Who’s responsibility is it to ensure referees are properly fit to handle a match?  The national rugby union?  International referees association? The referee themselves?
  • This might work better at lower levels of rugby where referees might be able to fit in a training session without causing as much of a disturbance as it would on a national level.

This is another reason that having an official located up in rafters of the stadium watching the game on monitors is very important.  They can catch some of those calls that the referees miss on the field, as evidenced by the Bakkies Botha headbutt earlier this Tri Nations season.  It’s a matter of these referees being able to work together as a team, each trusting what the other’s capabilities, and more importantly, limitations are.


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