It’s a long way from the 14-year-old nervously refereeing the Under-14 E at Maritzburg College to the 32-year-old man, one of the top referees in the world, striding out onto Orlando Stadium for the Final of the 2010 Super 14 – the Shoot-out in Soweto, the All-in at Orlando, the big sporting occasion between great rivals. It is a journey that Craig Paul Joubert has made. He looks forward to it with us – this his 50th Super rugby match as a referee.
Rugby 365 interviewed Craig Joubert.
How does it feel to be appointed to the S14 Final?.
It’s a huge honour. I’ve been an assistant referee in three Super 14 finals before, and so it’s a proud moment for me to be out in the middle this time. The fact that it is a South African derby, played in Soweto for the Super 14 crown makes for an historic day and one that I can’t wait to be a part of. It will be a significant and historic day for South African rugby.
Bulls vs Stormers, North vs South, a cultural clash, once the lifeblood of South African rugby in times of isolation – any idea what that is like?
I refereed this fixture in last year’s Super 14 round robin stage in front of a sold-out Loftus. That game stands out as one of my career highlights. I grew up in an era when the big North (Northern Transvaal/Blue Bulls) vs South (Western Province) clashes defined the Currie Cup.
Interestingly in over 50 Currie Cup matches this is a fixture I haven’t refereed but one that I have always aspired to.
Both the Stormers and Bulls were rewarded for 14 weeks of good performances with home semi finals and both won those comfortably against quality opposition, so I think it’s fair to say that the best two teams in the competition will meet each other at 5 p.m. in Soweto on Saturday.
Any facets of play needing particular attention?
There are so many mini battles within this contest. The set-pieces will be vital and will determine the pattern of the game.
The battle at the breakdown between two sets of world class loose forwards will determine which team gets on the front foot and of course the battle at 10 between Morné Steyn and Peter Grant, who are both exceptional players and whose goal kicking will be vital to their team, will shape this contest.
What about working with the captains?
The referee/captain relationship is an important aspect of overall game management and both parties have a role to play in ensuring that that relationship remains respectful, especially when everyone is under pressure.
I’ve worked with both Victor Matfield and Schalk Burger for many years in Super rugby and in the Currie Cup and I’m really comfortable with both of them. I had a few beers with Schalk in Cape Town after the pre season match against the Sharks and ended up sitting next to Victor for most of the flight home from Australia a few weeks ago. I think it’s good for all of us to understand each other as individuals away from the game.
How do you prepare physically and psychologically for such an occasion?
Physically all the work has been done. I started training for this season on 1 January and in the five and half months till now the physical training has been all about ensuring that every weekend I’m physically prepared for the challenge of the match. This weekend is no different. Psychologically this week is all about preparing for the fact that bonus points and four tries are irrelevant this weekend. Winning is the only thing that is important to these two teams now.
Then suddenly it will be match day. How will that day run?
The preparation and meeting with coaches, etc, have all taken place by the time match day dawns. Match day itself is a pretty low key day. Usually I have breakfast with the assistant referees and TMO to discuss the game and my expectations of them followed by a gentle 20 min cycle and stretch.
I like to eat about 3 hours before kick-off so for a 5 p.m. game I’ll have a sandwich at about 2 p.m. Hydration the whole day is key.
We like to arrive at the stadium about and hour and a half before kick off. Supersport like to broadcast the pre-match change room walk-throughs about 50 minutes before kick off and then mike us up for the coin toss.
From there I like to get out on the field while the teams are warming up to suck up the atmosphere and go through a few runs to get the blood running. 15 minutes prior to kick off I’m back in the change room getting the TV mikes and assistant referees communication devices inserted into the specially made vest we wear under our jerseys.
The Supersport TV director gets the teams onto the field on time and we follow them out.
How did the journey begin?
My late dad, Des, was a provincial referee. He was a great man and was hugely influential in shaping the skills required to referee at the top level. He taught me that refereeing is mostly about people management and respect for players, and this advice is as valuable this weekend in the Super 14 Final as it was at 08.30 on a Saturday morning at Maritzburg College.Tweet