Referee shortage in the south

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Long-serving Southland rugby referee Phil Johnston during a Southland premier club fixture this season.

SOUTHLAND rugby officials are calling for patience from club followers as they deal with a shortage of referees.

The Rugby Southland Referees organisation tries to provide referees each week for games from under-13 grades through to the premier competition. That requires finding referees for about 50 games each week.

At the moment the organisation has 66 active referees, although many of those officiate only on a part-time basis.

Some under-13 and president grade fixtures this season have had to go ahead without an official referee. Instead, the clubs have been required to provide their own referee.

Night games this season have helped the referees’ organisation out of sticky situations, with some referees able to squeeze in two games a week.

Rugby Southland referee education officer Curtis Tarrant said another problem attached to the referee shortage was some referees had been asked to jump up grades to ensure the gaps were filled in competitions which needed an official referee.

The referee officials would prefer those whistleblowers be provided more time to develop in the lower grades, but that wasn’t a luxury they had at the moment.

Tarrant asked for people to be patient and understand everyone involved was trying their best.

Last year Rugby Southland had a 26% decrease in referees.

This year the number dropped further for various reasons, including referees returning to play, retirements, injuries and people shifting away from Southland.

While Southland officials are concerned by the referee situation, Rugby Southland was still in a strong position compared with other provinces.

Last year Rugby Southland was rated the number one union, in terms of a 33-to-one player-to-referee ratio.

Tarrant believed Southland was also the only union which tried to provide official referees right down to the under-13 age-group.

That quest was in place to try and help create a good environment for young players, and in turn encourage them to keep playing the sport, he said.

The current situation was a “rugby issue” rather than just a “referee issue” and he hoped clubs would jump on board in helping encourage more people to give refereeing a go, he said.

At the very least, saying “thank you” to the referee after the game was a good way to help encourage the referees they currently had to return each week, Tarrant said.

There are currently four referees in place Watson, Aaron Watt and Taylor Swan to cover the three premier fixtures each week.

Former Southland player and veteran referee Phil Johnston slots into the premier ranks when needed.

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