With Super Rugby kicking off in the next few weeks preparations are well underway for the 15 sides but they aren’t alone in that, with SANZAAR’s Super Rugby panel also deep into getting ready for the season ahead.
The contraction of the competition also means a reduction in the number of referees on the panel from 19 to 17, with just a single new face this year in South African AJ Jacobs.
Experience leads the way
At the top end the group is highly experienced, headed by Jaco Peyper (82 matches) and Glen Jackson (65). Angus Gardner (47), Nick Briant (41) and Mike Fraser (40) are all in line to bring up half-centuries this season. Others in the group who have established themselves at international level are Marius van der Westhuizen and Ben O’Keeffe, with Rasta Rasivhenge a long-time stalwart of the Seven’s circuit.
Argentina and Japan each have one referee on the panel in Federico Anselmi and Shuhei Kubo respectively
Peyper, Jackson, Gardner, and O’Keeffe will also have matches in the remaining rounds of the Six Nations, to compliment Super fixtures.
NEWS: Jaco Peyper will referee opening match of the 2018 #SuperRugby season @THESTORMERS v @JaguaresARG in Cape Town on Saturday
Week #1 match officials: https://t.co/hYVEKAFRwj pic.twitter.com/vGOdEiZXMB
— Super Rugby (@SuperRugby) February 13, 2018
2018 Super Rugby Referees Panel:
Federico Anselmi (Arg), Nic Berry (Aus), Nick Briant (NZ), Mike Fraser (NZ), Angus Gardner (Aus), Will Houston (Aus), AJ Jacobs (SA), Glen Jackson (NZ), Shuhei Kubo (Jpn), Jamie Nutbrown (NZ), Ben O’Keeffe (NZ), Jaco Peyper (SA), Brendon Pickerill (NZ), Rasta Rasivhenge (SA), Egon Seconds (SA), Marius van der Westhuizen (SA), Paul Williams (NZ)
The group has recently concluded a training camp in Cape Town where, aside from the usual battery of fitness tests, the focus is on the application of the recent round of law changes – which took effect in the southern hemisphere from 1 January – and having a consistent approach game-to-game and week-to-week.
Some of the group have already experienced refereeing these changes having officiated in the northern hemisphere November series of internationals, with Kubo perhaps the most familiar with them having also refereed under them during the recently concluded Japanese season. The knowledge gained from that would have been invaluable to their colleagues, who at best may have only limited exposure from previous law trials conducted in their respective home countries such as the Varsity Cup in South Africa and the 2016 NPC in New Zealand.
The ‘team of four’, comprising the referee, two Assistant Referees (one of who in each match will be from the panel), and the TMO and how they work together will be crucial.
Implementing the law changes
The majority of players will also be adjusting to these changes as well, and like the referees they will be making full use of the preseason fixtures and the Global Tens to get to grips with them. It will be interesting to see the approach taken by the referees in the early part of the season and whether there’s any leniency shown or a more stringent view taken. My view is that it’s likely that the latter view will be taken since after all these are elite players operating in a professional environment, and they should be up to speed by the time the competition kicks off.
On top of all this there will be a consolidation on last year’s points of emphasis particularly around high tackles and other forms of contact. Another will be challenges in the air, and it will be interesting if the ‘action over outcome’ approach adopted in the Northern Hemisphere is adopted here.
Once that happens there will inevitably be decisions that are spotlighted, analysed, and scrutinised; and SANZAAR referees boss Lyndon Bray may have to make some tough decisions.
However this group are those at the top of their trade, and I for one will be keeping an eye on their performances as much as I’ll be on the players themselves.