Since 2007, Portugal haven’t given as much to the rugby world as fans originally expected. The amateur rugby team, called Os Lobos, failed to capitalize on their place in the rugby arena and after struggling now play in the third division of European rugby. But, outside of the mist, chaos and cruel reality of pro-rugby, some surprises still come from the warm and sunny Atlantic coastline… Paulo Duarte is one.
Paulo Duarte the new “Big Man” of the Sevens Series
A seasoned match official, he was selected to be part of the Referees Panel for the 2016/17 HSBC Sevens Series. Last Word On Rugby (LWOR) had the pleasure to speak with Paulo Duarte. In a brief discussion, LWOR hopes to unveil the man, his past, his values and what he wants to do with his referring future role within the Rugby World.
LWOR: Exeter, Bucharest and Kenya. 2016 has been a good year for you [as a referee] hasn’t it?
Paulo Duarte: “At this moment I feel very fortunate to have been picked to ref those games. It’s fulfilling to go to these wonderful places, do something that I really love, meet new people and make new friendships. That’s the point of rugby, isn’t it?
“I worked really hard to get to this point, and still can’t believe where I’ve gone to.”
“To ref games and feel an important piece of the show, that’s about it! I use to say that you can play rugby anywhere, but what’s truly about is the friendships and memories that you make.”
LWOR: In Romania you officiated the Under 18 European Sevens Tournament and in Kenya, you had the same honor–this time with Senior’s. What were the differences between them?
PD: “The intensity and dynamic of play… and don’t forget that both in Romania and Kenya the teams were in pre-season mode. In Bucharest, for the U18, it was all about rhythm and pace, whilst contact was easier to judge as the young players wanted to avoid it much of the time; except in the final between France and Ireland.
“While in Nairobi, you saw the senior level of play with speed, dynamic play with a high defensive pressure… at that level any mistake you make you can pay with a try or a loose ball, so you could see the player really focus on the task at hand. It was an excellent sevens (7’s) tournament, with many superb players and some of the guys who went to the Olympics.”
LWOR: Being a ref in the Rugby World is it or not a hard job? Which were the main troubles that you faced in the last seven years?
PD: “Well, I think the word hard is not the right one…It’s demanding, as it takes a lot out of you. Any decision you make, right or wrong, the spotlight will be on the referee, everyone will look at you. At that moment you know how important you are to the game. To excel as a ref, work hard, physically and mentally, we have to study, see games, talk to players and coaches and so on, to really understand every inch of the game. In the last seven years I had to choose where to go as I don’t have a big budget to go to every place, so that was the main obstacle. To be a better referee I had to go to other places, learn with experienced players and officials, and so on… But understand one thing, budget is an obstacle that I like to have… without a challenge you lose focus! I don’t like when things come free and easy, I have to work hard to get what I want the most.”
LWOR: One of your dreams was to become an referee in the HSBC World Series? Now that you’ve completed it [Paulo Duarte was selected as one of the referees for the Sevens Series] what you have to say about it?
PD: “That dream just came true, as I was picked to be a referee for four tournaments of the Sevens Series. I can’t explain how I feel, as it was one of the most proud moments of my life… honestly I think that’s a dream! But this just made things more serious to me, I have to work harder to get to the top. I’ve worked on Series before as an assistant referee, noticing how difficult it is to be a Series Official. You have to prepare well enough to not get surprised with the level of the game there.”
LWOR: How do you see the Series? Do you think it can be bigger or the current format is the right one?
PD: “The Sevens Series is one of the biggest competitions in the World, making a big impact on people. When 7’s rugby was brought to the Rio Olympics, it was great time for the sport, as you will have more people interested on it. The current format is the right one, the season is long and takes a toll on everybody… and don’t forget that most of the players play on XV teams who call them at certain moments of the season. 10 tournaments is enough for now, as you have the full 7’s experience and each one of the Continents gets to see the Series live.
“In the future, if there is a real separation between XV and 7’s players, coaches and referees, then the World Series can get even bigger.”
LWOR: In your long experience as an international referee, do you recall one important game for you? And what about ‘talking’ players, did you faced any of those?
PD: “I honestly can say that I am lucky in that… never had a war-game, players usually respect me and themselves. I had some staff who gave me a hard time, but sometimes it’s normal in the heat of the game. You have to know how to dealt with these situations, if you let the emotions take over you, you are in the wrong sport.
“As for special game, I remember that on my first GPS I was selected to officiate an England v Scotland festival game… it was brutal, but in a good way. I had the opportunity to be on the same pitch as some of the 7’s legends.”
LWOR: In your own opinion, there should be any new rule or modification to the rule book?
PD: “For me we only have to improve the knowledge of the game, making it simpler and easier to understand. The rugby rule book was done according to the ethics and values of the sport, giving us a help on how to improve every bit of the game. The game belongs to the players and we have to help them improve the show, to analyze every situation and decide what’s best for them and for the game.
“Whatever he/she sees right on the field and we have to learn on how to deal with that spotlight.”
Modern rugby gives power to the referee to decide
LWOR: There has been a fuss, about the extreme regulation on tackling, with some players and pundits saying that is taking ‘aggressiveness’ to rugby. What do you think about it? In the other end, do you think players are safer today from possible life threatening injuries?
PD: “The first and most fundamental thing for rugby is to protect its players. It is our main priority. But I have to say this, the rule book and the referees are not taking away the aggressiveness of the tackle or toning it down… what was asked from us was to have zero tolerance with any type of illegal foul play or dangerous tackle, like charges to the head or neck. The speed and impact of the players is getting more intense each year, and we have the difficult job to help them understand that not every contact is legal or good enough to be on the pitch.
“I recommend you to watch the movie, Concussion (starring Will Smith), which shows us how serious the brain damage was on some injuries and how it lead to some suicides of retired players. The neuroscientist who discovered it had a really hard time because he only wanted to raise awareness for the athletes who played that sport every week. We are humans, not goats, moose or other type of animal who can head-butt with absolute power and are physically prepared to survive it. We have to take care of the players, so they can retire in peace and without any sort of problem. We have a problem of not looking to the future, as we like only to think of the present!”
LWOR: Best referee on the Sevens Series? And in the XV’s game?
PD: “Best world referees are Nigel Owens and Craig Joubert without a doubt. Nigel Owens is a gentleman, knows how to talk to players and to put the game in a higher level. Craig Joubert excels in technique and understanding of the game. In the Sevens Series, Rasta Rasivhenge and Mike Adamson, both my favorites.”
LWOR: We all know the pre-match preparation for players… but, what about you? How does a referee get ready for a game?
PD: “Each new year you can see referees becoming more and more athletes… we have to be on top-form not damage the game. If we aren’t at same level of a player, then we will lose focus at some point and we will make any match a horror show. In my case, I practice three times a week, each one of these three areas: cardio/gym, game analysis and accompanying some team practices.
“Whenever possible I will go to rugby clubs and train with them, helping me to understand their doubts and so on, and help them to understand what we look at, in each moment of play.”
“At home I try to analyze my games, study the rule book, talk to coaches and other refs so I can comprehend what is needed from me. When a game is designated for me, I try to watch some of the teams games so I can understand the way they play. On the match day I try to focus from the first moment, with a simple routine, listen to some music, eat a light meal and so on… not much different from what players do.”
LWOR: Do you think 7’s in the North Hemisphere is a serious bet? Or is it still not an important issue for the big clubs and teams?
PD: “Yeah, I think so but it still has a long way to go. There’s a serious 7’s development, with many tournaments, official series and some other tournaments that will make it bigger. There are still some XV/7’s issue… we can’t forget that XV a side is the oldest type of rugby and the investment is made almost entirely on it.
“With the Olympics maybe it will change a bit, I hope so.”
The HSBC Sevens Series begins on December 2-3, with the Dubai Sevens tournament.