irb gets it right in craig joubert


The word’ ‘gutted’ will forever be an understatement when one thinks of the Boks bowing out of the 2011 Rugby World, following that ‘lack of balls’ defeat at the hands of the Wallabies.

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’

its in the rule book mate

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

vapor in the wind

Professional sport. The life of a chosen few. A glorified manor that a selected need not magazine pictures, blogs or someone’s mother to get the idea, but live to tell many tales of its existence. That God-given, though not always driven, rare talent that cannot be confused with ‘luck’ nor could it be pinned down to just ‘hard-work’.

Often a sanctuary of success, a dream come true stature. The real ‘Fast and the Furious’ franchise, the nature of rock and roll. The life. The tragedy. The tragedy of a flower quickly fading; here today and gone tomorrow.

Only just over a year Tiger Woods was the number golfer. 2008 Olympics Michael Phelps was the pot-head hailed king of the pool. The fall off Zinedine zidane. Troublesome Joost van der Westhuizen, Herschelle Gibbs…and and…


Monday July 4th, while many Americans caused havoc (much like we South Africans do on December 31st) ATP tennis rankings were released and confirmed Novak Djokovic as the new world number one. After the Serb’s 6-4, 6-1, 1-6, 6-3 victory over Rafael Nadal in the Wimbledon finale.

No surprise (of course), considering he was already guaranteed to move ahead of the Spaniard following his semi-final defeat of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

What this means though is that Nadal’s 56-week rein since he took over from Roger Federer in June last year is over and now the 2008 and 2010 champ is merely a forgettable number two.

Yeah sure he vows to hit back and probably will, but that’s a story for another day. What is quite unnerving is Serena Williams’ new standings. From world number one to 175th – her lowest position since 1997 – in just under two years. Yeah sure injury and illness kept her off court for a year, but slumping 150 places is something else altogether.

Once again I find myself at the receiving end of all that can be ‘fun-cruelty’ because of my affiliations. I don’t need to tell you that my rugby team of choice is the Vodacom Blue Bulls and their premature exit in this year’s Super Rugby meant one thing; find a deep hole and crawl into it – FAST.

I will fully admit, though I had hoped, I didn’t see the Bulls retaining the title this year. I sat at a cold Coca-Cola Park stadium to witness their kick-off to the Super Rugby campaign. A 24-5 lead into the second-half had me and many in Bulls replicas fooled into a coy that perhaps the new format will take nothing away from the two-year champions.

The 24-20 victory aroused many jitters… with that said the format, undesirable to many (count me in) did in fact save the Pretoria giants from one of the most atrocious season destined.

And a (less) memorable end for the brave Crusaders’ 100,000km journey. Receiving the raw end of the stick from kick-off, its a wonder this side made it this far. Devastation of the worst kind at home could leave any team disoriented.

However, Todd Blackadder’s men took the entire season with stride that had many pinning them down as ‘the team’ of the season. Making the 2011 finale one of fairytales.

Only four years ago the men from Queensland were the ‘minnows’ of Super Rugby. Who can forget the 92-3 whipping in 2007 at the hands of the Bulls? Now there’s an irony – this Reds team taking the reins from that very same Pretoria outfit. And in the process wreck the Crusaders’ hopes of an eighth Super Rugby title, in a finish that is only predicted in a book of fairytales.

Sure the Quade Cooper versus Dan Carter contest is always a ticket seller. Carter‘s drops goal skills taking on the lethal tactical kicking of the fullback will be mouth-watering any day. Some blogger (whose name and page escapes me) summed it up nicely:

“The Crusaders looked knackered and played like it”.

Classy and rugby genius he remains, but the All Blacks pivot lost this battle, as Cooper, with a little help from the other Wallaby – Will Genia – closed the book with a much anticipated ‘happily ever after’.

Well done Reds. Take a bow Crusaders. Reaching the final under such conditions is commendable.

With so much more sport coming up in the next few months – the Currie Cup, Tri-nations, World Cup and the return of the soccer season, yeah I’ll even pay attention to the US Open – I am excited to see what this season will unfold for these men and women in tracksuits.

Currie Cup picks:
Game 1: Lions v Pumas: Lions by 10

Game 2: Western Province v Griquas: Western Province by 13

Game 3: Cheetahs v Leopards: Cheetahs by 9

Game 4: Sharks v Blue Bulls: Blue Bulls by 5

Whats yours ?

legendary feet. legendary heart.

They say a legend is an old man with a cane known for what he used to do; that his accolades best describe him and gives his audience a reason to remember him. For years, and to no end, the Real Steven Pienaar will enter the book of class greats.

The past weekend was one of legends (at least what can be classified as legendary moments), and a few step-up to the scale.

These includes Kurtley Beal – a Wallabie that tore at the hearts of many Boks. The Lions roared louder than any bad Storm causing the biggest upset in 2010 Currie Cup (since Pumas embarrassed the over-confident Bulls), by thrashing Western Province.

Frankly, I wasn’t upset all, neither was The Star Newspaper’s Chief Sport writer – Kevin McCallum – who probably opened more beer cans than he had in his life. Cindy Poluta of Eyewitness News Sport kicked up her heels for her beloved Lions.  But the man of the weekend has to be Schillo.

Bafana Bafana has evolved under the guidance of Carlos, and seems to be souring with Pitso in the driving seat. The 2010 World Cup has left an impressionable legacy. My white boss actually won a ‘Name a Bafana’ contest against her brother and husband.

Yeah this inheritance is serving the white household, and on the pitch it was evident on the Blackstars / Niger clashes. The endless missed opportunities (especially against Niger) are an extensive concern though, and while Pitso may be a patient man, the Boks have shown the SA Fan Club is anything but.

Pienaar flaunted his escalating ball skills, hushing his critics and fueling the ever burning fire of his fan base by collecting the MOM award. The Everton man proved once again why he is SA’s greatest export to the English League and an avid midfielder.

While most players wouldn’t part with the ball in the ’18 area’, Schillo displayed his unselfish heart by sending one of those legendary passes to a man who, even though lacks composure (at times), deserves to be playing in the English soil – Katlego ‘Killer’ Mphela. Bernard Parker’s goal and the other five that should have been are a reflection of this Capetonian’s God given structure.

If I had illusions of making pro-soccer Pienaar’s jersey would probably be on my wall.

Ah Legendary Heart. Legendary Feat.