Many may have felt something similar when the Proteas failed to take down the Black Caps earlier, but this day reminded me of 1999 when one Alan Donald dropped his bat and forgot how to run…altogether. The look of disbelief on Victor Matfield’s face vaguely reflected Lance Klusners that fateful night in England.
Like many SAffers, hearing the news that our very own Craig Joubert will take charge of the final contest between New Zealand and France excites me (God knows the last thing the game needs is the likes of Bryce Lawrence). Provided we don’t ‘pretend’ this is a Boks final, like we did Proteas when Gary Kirsten led India to gold.
My last work for Varsity Cup was one of my favourite interviews I’ve ever conducted, a chat with – yes, you’ve guessed correct – Craig Joubert, before he was to jet off to New Zealand. I didn’t know anything about him, apart from what was online, therefore; didn’t know what to expect. However, by the time he put down his phone I had dubbed him ‘the favourite’
Here’s ‘Whistling while he works’
Craig Joubert is a name extremely familiar in world rugby. This professional rugby union referee initially spent five years in corporate banking, following his graduation in Business Finance. He holds a B.Com and Honours degree in the financial field, completed at UKZN, but – of course – it’s all about refereeing for him at present.
The 33-year-old has an incredible record: he was a touch judge at RWC 2007, he has handled over 20 Tests – including the Tri- and Six Nations – and he will be at the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand later this year.
Last year was a memorable rugby season for him, having been handed the double – reffing the Super Rugby and Currie Cup Finals in one season.
varsitycup.co.za caught up with the former UKZN student to chat about Soweto, Jonathan Kaplan, time-zones and, as one would imagine, all things rugby:
(1) Good day, Craig. A huge thank you for taking time out of your super busy schedule. To kick things off, please tell us about your time at UKZN?
“Good afternoon Kate, only a pleasure. Well, after being schooled at Maritzburg College I went to UKZN with mates. What I can tell you is, like most students, I had a helluva ‘jol’! The typical varsity stuff. Last-minute work… while the social life was taking the major priority. I mean, I passed and did my work; but that was all in between having a great time.”
(2) [Ha, ha ha.] Yeah, that sounds awfully familiar. When did you decide you wanted to officiate full-time? Did anyone influence that decision?
“My late dad was a referee actually, and that was the main influence. I started officiating at school through him. Then I went to Maritzburg College, as you know, a highly sport-oriented institution and they gave me the freedom and opportunity to continue with this passion. The teachers there were very supportive. I would travel overseas often and they would arrange make-up tests for me, ensuring I wasn’t behind on any work. From then on I never looked back. I went to the bank for years before going pro, but I started international games in 2003, doing Super Rugby, then Super 12.”
(3) So what does the life of a world-class referee entail?”
World-class, huh? [More laughter.] Traveling, traveling… and more traveling. It’s managing the travels. I do travel a lot. I’m in Europe about three times a year. Australia and New Zealand two to four-times, maybe Argentina once or so. It’s the best and the most challenging tasks in my line of work. The different cross-zones often mean early travels. It’s great to be involved in the game, but I’m hardly ever home and that’s difficult.”
(4) You were in charge of the Bulls-Stormers Super 14 Final in Soweto last year. What did you take out of that game? And how big was it for our country?
“It’s, by far, one of the highlights of my career. For so many reasons… It was my first Super Rugby Final (of course), but also an historic event that involved two SA teams, which meant that the whole country was involved. The atmosphere was something else: vuvuzelas blaring the entire 80 minutes, something most of us never experience. It was noisy, communication with the captains was a challenge at time, but man was it special! It was also a reminder of what Nelson Mandela did, allowing the country to embrace rugby. People who have never been and probably would never go to Soweto… lives were changed. That game meant greater things for SA!”
(5) You are one of the three SA officials to be invited to this year’s IRB World Cup, who was the first person that you told of this news? And what about your relationship with fellow RWC ref Jonathan Kaplan?
“I was in Oz [Super Rugby duties] and my wife, who never travels with me, was there. So it was really special to share that with her. On Jonathan, we’ve been good mates over the years. When I started he was here in Durban and he became a mentor of mine.”
(6) Coming back to more local rugby. Briefly give us your overall views of the Varsity Cup competition… how big is it for South African rugby?
“It’s definitely a magnificent tournament. I work closely with guys, mentoring the officials. It’s a great platform for the youngsters, an opportunity to get out there. And this is evident in the number of these lads in Super Rugby and Currie Cup already. It is a great platform not only for the players, as we also use it to recruit officials. I love the different initiatives, like the Pinks Shorts campaign. It embraced the student vibe with the Monday Nigh Lights advantage. The universities have embraced it; it’s well-supported and looks great on TV.”
(7) For the first time this year a first division – the Varsity Shield – was introduced. Do you think such tournaments should have more than one division?
“I think teams like UKZN would’ve looked at the Varsity Cup some time ago and thought, ‘Hey that looks great! Geez, I’d love to be there, participating.’ The Shield provides this opportunity. It means more teams will get into it, putting pressure on the main tournament as they strive to get there. This will ensure growth in the Varsity Cup as a whole.”
(8) What are FNB UKZN’s chances of making it into the Varsity Cup (proper)?
“I would like to believe they’ll get there soon. If you look at the great players produced by the varsity, there’s a great chance. The university may not be as big on rugby as say Cape Town (with UCT and Maties), but they definitely have the resources to foster progress into the premier division.”
(9) Teams like FNB Tuks, FNB UJ, etc have shown they have what it takes to go all the way. What does this mean for powerhouses like Maties and Ikeys – the only two winners thus far?
“It’s great for the contest. Each year a new team steps up. This is great because it has that element of surprise; you never know what’s going to happen, who’s going to lead the pack. It benefits the so-called ‘powerhouses’ too. Their players move onto Stormers/WP rugby, which means that they get an opportunity to groom more youngsters, which introduces new talent into the game.”
(10) Thank you Craig, I have taken enough of your time, but I can’t let you go before I know what do you miss most about your UKZN days?
“That’s easy. On a sunny day you would have a choice between a golf course and a boring finance class. [Laughter from both ends.] No really, during your varsity days, you are only just starting out; the only responsibility is doing enough work to pass. I miss that flexibility and time spent with my mates – just dreaming, with no cares in the world. I have great memories of those days, although these days I get to enjoy the privilege of living my dreams and creating great memories on the rugby field.”
By Kate Nokwe: a product of Varsity Cup