In the spotlight: Hong Kong ref Tim Baker hoping to turn heads in Natixis Cup
‘Asia’s best’ takes control of clash between New Zealand’s Highlanders and French outfit Racing 92
Hong Kong referee Tim Baker, dubbed the best in Asia by former Japan coach Eddie Jones, is planning to showcase his skills to the world in Saturday’s Natixis Cup showdown between Super Rugby champions the Highlanders and French giants Racing 92.
With the match receiving global exposure and live television coverage, 33-year-old Baker hopes a strong showing will be noticed by World Rugby.
“With the audience world wide, this is my chance to show the people in Dublin just how good a referee I can be,” Baker said.
“You never know who’s watching. Since it’s being broadcast live in New Zealand, the Super Rugby selectors will be watching, no doubt. For me, this opportunity is massively important.”
The Natixis Cup will feature Hong Kong referees across the board, with Matt Rodden and Patrick Kwok acting as Baker’s assistants.
“There is a massive opportunity for younger refs coming through,” Baker said. “We’ve got about 40 active refs in Hong Kong and we cover between 50 and 60 games a week.
“This game is another step forward for Hong Kong referees. Usually people think ‘You’re not a Tier 1 nation, you don’t produce quality referees’, but for Hong Kong rugby this is going to be massive.
“If I can open the door for someone young to come through and inspire younger referees, then I’m doing my job.”
Baker’s 13 years’ refereeing will ensure he is not overawed by the star-studded line-ups of Racing 92 and Highlanders.
“It’s definitely the biggest game I’ve done, but it’s just two teams with different guys,” Baker said. “I’ve assistant refereed with Dan Carter on the field before, so seeing those guys is not a shock.”
While Baker dreams of one day brandishing a whistle in a World Cup, it is the entry of Japanese team Sunwolves in the Super Rugby competition that has his immediate attention.
“The ultimate obviously would be a World Cup but something achievable in Asia at the moment would be Super Rugby,” Baker said.
“Obviously, performing well this weekend and at the Junior World Trophy (World Rugby Under-20 Trophy in Zimbabwe in April) will create more doors that I have to open.”
After working as a bank manager in New Zealand, Baker moved to Hong Kong 18 months ago to take up the role of senior referee development officer with the Hong Kong Rugby Union, a job which also involves refereeing the Hong Kong Premiership each weekend.
He adjudicated in his first test match last year, between South Korea and Japan, receiving glowing feedback from then Japan coach Eddie Jones, who labelled him the number one referee in Asia.
The Natixis Cup will be played at Siu Sai Wan stadium.