When the call comes, refs must be at top of their game
This weekend I will be in South Korea officiating the Asian Five Nations game between Korea and Japan and now the number two spot has been claimed by Hong Kong, I expect Korea will want to put in a better performance in front of their home crowd in Incheon.
This weekend I will be in South Korea officiating the Asian Five Nations game between Korea and Japan, with assistant referees Dewi Rowlands and Warren Needham.
In the past two years, this game has been between Asia’s top two teams, with Japan comfortably winning each time. But now the number two spot has been claimed by Hong Kong, Korea will be smarting and, although they have never beaten Japan in the A5N, they will want to put in a better performance in front of their home crowd in Incheon.
Japan and Korea have a long rugby tradition and for the preceding two seasons, I have been selected to ref this fixture. It is always an intense affair with both teams playing a similar style of rugby – very quick, recycled ball from the breakdown, looking to give their backs space to attack.
The set pieces are usually stable and this also leads to a fast game, so I am expecting to do a fair amount of running. I have also refereed the Japan professional league and the clubs play a similar game to the national squad. A number of the Korean players also ply their trade in this league as well, so it will be fairly familiar to all.
It’s no great revelation that Japan are the number one team in Asia and I expect them to win this game. I have watched the games that have been made available online courtesy of the Asian Rugby Football Union and these will assist in my preparation.
However, when I analyse Japan, their real strengths and weaknesses are not easily identified as they win so comfortably and therefore are not really tested under pressure.
That being said, I am aware of certain areas that I must always pay special attention to. First is the tackle and ensuing breakdown. A ball carrier, following a tackle, must always be allowed to have his options to play the ball and there is a mental process that refs will adopt to ensure compliance. I will also have a number of triggers that I will use to help me identify those who do not comply.
This game will be the penultimate game for Japan before they take on Hong Kong in Japan the following Saturday – the winner of that game will automatically qualify for the 2015 Rugby World Cup, while the runner-up will enter a repêchage phase.
From a Hong Konger’s point of view, it would be incredible if Hong Kong could advance straight into the RWC; the reality is the more likely road will be long and arduous journey via Uruguay.
From a personal point of view, the A5N in its current format has presented an excellent opportunity for Hong Kong referees to demonstrate their officiating talents around Asia and it’s to our credit that we have such a good representation at the highest levels.
We also are fortunate to have a number of referees who are developing and have officiated in the lower divisions within ARFU and will be strong contenders for consideration at the higher level soon.
With the change to the next year’s A5N to a Top Three round robin, there will be fewer opportunities for Hong Kong referees at the top level as four of the games will involve Hong Kong (playing Japan and, most probably, Korea, home and away), but that should be used as an incentive for Hong Kong referees to work hard on our fitness, law knowledge and game management to ensure we are at our best to be considered for selection.
Of course, there will still be other games outside the top division, but just as with players who want to play at the highest level, referees want to blow the whistle at the highest level. And that means I will have to ensure my performance this weekend is first rate.