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Referee Numbers the Final Frontier for Central West Rugby

By Vittorio Travan

The growth of Central West Rugby is undeniable, but finding career referees is the next step in securing the long-term future of rugby in the region. Despite celebrating a renaissance under a 2018 competition restructure, there is now a real push to find and nurture the next generation of rugby match officials.

With only six of the region’s referees born after 1990, plans are underway to address the growing age gap. The Central West Rugby Union Referee’s Association (CWRURA) have only 48 referees registered for active roles this season.

With three of the six referees born after 1980 still in high school, they are the only identified talent looking to rejuvenate the Association. In a recent board meeting, earlier in May the CWRURA identified a need to address the issue, by encouraging talent identification through the junior systems.

Ian Robertson, Cowra Eagle’s President and CWRURA member says by securing and identifying young referees, rugby in the region will be in safe hands. He said, “We just want to offer an opportunity for these young kids to see some exceptional rugby from the best seat in the house.”

“There is a real need to fix this, as without true talent identification of young local refs in the region, we could face an interesting situation,” Mr. Robertson said.

Under the current scheme Central West Juniors appoints all referees to juniors matches on a club to appoint basis. Despite all games being filled for juniors matches this is not always the case for seniors and there is a need to progress this talent into the seniors ranks.

The proposed scheme will see the unification of referees in the juniors and seniors’ system that will widen the resources of available referees. Mr. Robertson says by pooling all referees under the one banner, it will help ensure the longevity of refereeing in the region.

“We don’t want to lose anyone from rugby. We don’t want to lose players, referees, volunteers, coaches or administrators. So, we need to make sure we have the right pathways in place to ensure no one is lost,” Mr Robertson said.

From left to right: Andrew Lees, Angus Gardner (top), Will Houston (bottom) [Sourced: Rugby Week, Rugby Referee.net. and Rugby Australia]

The sentiment was reinforced by Alex Richards, Referee Education Coordinator for NSW Rugby, who says schemes like the Rugby Australia School Scholarship are in place to address this issue. The scholarship selects school level referees from right across Australia who have been identified by either their local schools or referee associations.

The program has developed the likes of Angus Gardner, Will Houston and Andrew Lees who have gone on to referee at Super Rugby and International level. The scheme is just one the avenues the CWRURA sees as a key to keeping young referees involved with the game and exposing local talent to representative pathways.

This year Kinross Wolaroi referee Fraser Robertson landed a spot in the Rugby Australia School Student Scholarship (SSS), continuing years of country referees who have been identified through the scheme. Through the scholarship Robertson was involved in high level referee coaching, meetings with Super Rugby referee teams and a specialized scrum school held by NSW Rugby.

Fraser Robertson (in orange) taking charge of the Stanford v Kings 16As game earlier this month

Similarly, Jamie McGregor, Match Official Manager for Community Rugby for Rugby Australia, said these program aim to curve the drop off of in involvement when kids leave school. He says the program is aimed at giving young referees the right push to help them reach the heights they want to achieve.

McGregor said, “Every year there are recipients who represent the country regions and if they stick with refereeing we have found within a few years they will be refereeing at the top level in their country zones within a few years.”

He said the SSS scheme along with the representative pathway of NSW Country Referees, promote an experience that can attract students and keep them refereeing once they leave school. It’s the experience, excitement and the range of opportunity available to referees that has McGregor excited.

McGregor said, “We have a large base of school referees and we are hoping these programmes encourage referees to continue with their talent once they finish school.”

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