Joy Neville - International Player to WC Final Ref P1
August 25, 2017
Referee Craig Joubert talks about the highs and lows of his 12-year career, and his future in the game
January 3, 2017
One of South Africa’s most internationally-recognised referees, Craig Joubert, has decided to call time on his career in the 15-man game. He’ll concentrate on refereeing on the World Sevens Circuit and will also be involved in developing young up-and-coming referees under the auspices of the world governing body for the sport, World Rugby. Joubert has been taking charge of 1st class rugby matches for 12 years rising from Currie Cup rugby to World Cup finals. He’s attracted fans and detractors – more of the former than the latter – over the years. As so often happens with referees, they become the centre of attention when they get it wrong, not when they get it right. Joubert found himself at the centre of a storm twice for his handling of a match – after the 2014 Waratahs-Crusaders Super Rugby final and the 2015 World Cup quarterfinal between Scotland and Australia when he erroneously awarded Australia a final minute penalty which won them the game. In the wake of the uproar, he was praised for the way he took the criticism on the chin and admitted his errors. Joubert will be remembered more for the way he won the confidence of the players and coaches around him and was regarded as one of the top referees in the world.
Craig, has it taken a bit of soul-searching before you arrived at the decision to quit the 15-man game, quit refereeing it?
Yes, look, it wasn’t an easy decision and there are some exciting things happening in rugby over the next few years. Possibly I could have been involved in the Lions’ tour to New Zealand next year and of course the build-up to the World Cup in Japan but this was just an opportunity that presented itself with World Rugby that was very exciting. And you get to a stage in your career where you need to be open to opportunities, and this one presented itself. It was a good opportunity and what it does, it allows me to walk away on my terms. It’s nice to get to the end of your career, to be able to call time on your career at your time, on your terms, and that’s what I feel really good about – to be able to roll over into a career I feel really passionate about.
Well let’s talk about the job – Referee Talent Development Coach. What exactly does that entail, Craig?
There is a dual purpose to the role, a lot of it is on the 7s circuit. You know I reff’d on the 7s circuit this year and went to the Olympic Games, and the 7s is a very exciting place. It is obviously taking off, Cape Town was abuzz this weekend with the 7s here and, like anything, there is an obvious need to make sure that the officiating of the 7s keeps pace with the development of the game. So I will still be refereeing on the 7s and also coaching and mentoring the referees there. So really building a team towards the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. Also I am very excited about the 7s side of the job. And then outside of the 7s season there will be some development with referees across the globe, some development of some tier 2 referees and development of referees generally.
It seems this is something you have been doing before to a certain extent, when we look at the work you have been doing with Rasta Rasivhenge who has come along in leaps and bounds and was nominated for a World Rugby award.
Yes, it is something I’ve done in my time at SARU, working with the young referees coming through in South Africa. And Rasta is obviously a guy who I have spent a lot of time with on the 7s, he is just a fantastic dude and I have loved taking him under my wing a little bit and spending some time with him, helping develop him as a person and obviously as a referee. I have enjoyed that so much, the time that I have spent with him, I just know that the opportunity to do that with other young referees is really exciting to me.
You were the very first referee I ever interviewed on television. I had just started at the SABC and I think you had just started – you and James Sheriff were the two young referees who were coming through – and we used to do Vodacom Cup games on SABC TV and we were in Randfontein I seem to recall doing an interview with you there. For me it just seems the other day that we were doing this but when we reflect on it, it has been a twelve-year career. Do referees have that kind of longevity?
Yes, what we have seen in refereeing over the years is a bit a shift in how careers pan out. You know probably the generation ago, referees used to start a lot later in life so they were in their mid-30s when they started refereeing international rugby. So a 10 or 12 year career would take them through to about 45, which is an age most referees start to get to the end. I guess in my generation, what we are seeing is a few of us who came through and started refereeing internationally quite a lot younger than the previous generation had. And so what that means is a 10- or 12-year career now does not actually take you through to 45 anymore. So whilst in my particular case I probably had a few years left in me both from an age and physical perspective, I think 12 years at this level is a good stint and while I could have gone on, I want to be open to opportunities and what’s next. You never want to be standing still and not challenging yourself and developing new skills. I think that everyone quite naturally gets to some stage in their career, it is not necessarily relevant to age.
I would imagine that your frequent flyer miles must be something to behold. Will the travelling be something that you are not really going to miss that much?
Well David, you know with my work on the 7s, I am probably going to do as much international travel as I have been doing for the past 12 years. I have done all the 7s tournaments and there’s 13 to 14 weeks of international travel for that. Look you’re right, the frequent flyer miles do really pile up but the travel is something which you never take for granted, and never forget the privilege of getting to travel around the world and being involved in a game that you are passionate about. But you know with a young family it is also probably one of the greatest challenges of the job. And so whilst I will still be travelling internationally as much as I probably have, I guess the difference for me personally is when I get back to South Africa I am not going to be running out every weekend refereeing and I guess that extra time over the weekends back at home with my young family and watching my kids play sport on a Saturday morning is another part of my next chapter that I am very excited about and looking forward to.
Now that you’ve decided to quit the 15-man game, have you had time to reflect on that career? You have been involved in such incredible matches. You have done so much – over a 100 Super Rugby matches, the World Cups, the World Cup Finals, the Super Rugby finals. Have you been able to pause and look back at what you have achieved?
Yes, I guess you do that, don’t you? When you give it away, you do have a moment to look back on your career and remember some of the good occasions and some of the disappointments. It’s probably natural to look back in your career and appreciate what you have done and what you have been through, and you remember some of them fondly, and some of them as challenging moments, but all look good in your development in what you do and as a person. It has been good to look back and reflect on what the career has been.
If I can ask you to touch on a couple of those moments, what for you have been those challenges?
The two that will stand out are Waratahs against the Crusaders in 2014 and probably the Rugby World Cup quarterfinal Scotland against Australia. Would those have been the tougher times for you because there was a lot of scrutiny, a lot of criticism there?
Yes, that is the nature of the environment that we are in. You are going to face challenging times and I guess for me after the disappointment of the last World Cup, I was pretty determined to pick myself up and show my character in 2016. For me your character is not defined by whether you get knocked down, but how you stand up again. And you know in 2016 I had the opportunity to go straight back into the arena and I got a Six Nations appointment, England against Wales at Twickenham, probably the key game of this year’s Six Nations. So going straight back into the arena in that game, going straight back into England/Australia in Melbourne in June, the Rugby Championship, big game in Cardiff at the end of the year, in addition to Test match rugby, getting stuck into Super Rugby this year and obviously the Olympic Games. It’s great to go back into the arena. Obviously you are aware of the noise and you are aware of the doubters, of the anonymous people on social media. But the thrill of being in the arena, blocking out the external distractions and looking solely to remaining connected with the players in the moment and to concentrate on their game – that’s what kept driving me, keeping your head and walking off knowing that it takes courage and skill to do what we do. And that’s what really drove me this year and hopefully that’s what defines your character and not just the disappointments that come along the way.