WHEN concussion snatched Nic Berry’s playing career from him, the former Reds halfback knew his connection with rugby would not be lost along with it.
After dabbling in coaching at schoolboy level, it is as a referee that he has found his fit with a rapid rise from the club ranks in 2015 to Super Rugby a year later.
At 33, he is younger than Reds veterans Stephen Moore (34) and George Smith (36) who he played with or against during his 33-game run at the Reds between 2004-07.
After concussion ended his playing career, Nic Berry is now excelling as a top level referee
“To make progress as a ref you have to go all-in and I’m thoroughly enjoying it now I’m well past that initial hesitancy,” Berry said.
“Having been a player, I realised I really missed the high-performance environment and the accountability that comes with it.
“A ref’s had a good game if he’s a ghost out on the field and helps create a platform where both teams can play.”
Berry’s rise was recognised at the recent World Under-20s Championships in Georgia when he controlled the New Zealand-England final.
It’s a satisfying new life in rugby that he never imagined when his career at English club Wasps ended suddenly in 2012.
As a former player Berry has an understanding as to how the game should flow.
For French club Racing Metro and Wasps, he’d played nearly 100 games, with former All Black Andrew Mehrtens, Sebastien Chabal and Billy Vunipola among his elite teammates.
“It was taking less intense knocks to be concussed and longer to recover,” said Berry, who counted eight or more head knocks over a two-year period.
“It was ‘one more knock’ and your done for a while and the specialist in England finally said ‘that’s it’.”
Berry is delighted that World Rugby’s new concussion protocols are now backing player welfare so strongly.
“Headaches, the ability to manage emotions, vision, taking longer to bounce back ... I’ve experienced the issues so absolutely refs have a duty to protect players,” Berry said.
Backing former players is a strong strategy from Australia’s referees’ body just as former Chiefs back Glen Jackson has been fast-tracked to Test level in New Zealand.
Berry turned out for the Reds and had stints with French club Racing Metro and Wasps.
“I suppose former professional players are used to crowds, pressure and the game but you still have to polish your knowledge and signals,” Berry said.
“As an old halfback, I’m used to making decisions around the breakdown and I did cut off a player or two early on by running a few support lines when forgetting I had a halfback beside me.
“Issues arise when players feel they aren’t being heard so I don’t want to be the ref who’s dismissive.”
He did referee former Sunnybank teammate Greg Holmes in a Reds trial and he thinks the former prop was joking when he said it was time to delete Berry’s number from his phone.
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