An initiative for senior rugby players to pick up a whistle and get involved in refereeing junior players during their bye week is being strongly encouraged by Wellington Rugby.
The Wellington Union has seen the positive outcomes of the initiative which was introduced by the Manawatu Rugby Union and Rugby Referees’ Association in 2016.
It involves players from the Premier and Premier Reserve Grades being assigned to referee junior rugby from Under-12 and below, when their side has a bye.
Wellington Rugby Referee Education Officer David Walsh said the benefits have been many-fold in Manawatu.
Firstly, the junior players have someone taking control of their fixtures who is currently playing at a high level of the game while the players picking up the whistle generally found they enjoyed the experience and wanted to do it again.
Walsh said the fact there was a pool of between 80-90 players available during each weekend meant it was easy enough to facilitate, as long as the clubs got behind the concept and encouraged players to get involved.
The Wellington Union was also working as hard as it could to make the experience beneficial to the players by putting as many of them together at one venue when practical.
From Under-11 Grade downwards, there is no competition in the scrums thereby, reducing a lot of the pressure of controlling the game, Walsh added.
“What would be ideal is that the players would be picking up a whistle at their own clubs when they have a bye” he said. “This creates a positive connection between the senior and junior sections of clubs.”
“That would bring a lot of visibility to the club environment because these are players the juniors really look up to. The senior players benefit each week from having the youngsters running around collecting the ball when it has been kicked into the trees or the creek or onto the adjacent field. This is one way for the senior players to return a favour. We believe the scheme has a lot of merit and we hope the clubs and the players really take to the idea.”
Walsh said there would be opportunities to assist any players wanting any practical help around laws before they ran out on the field as referees.
Recent graduate from the playing to refereeing ranks, Ryan McLean, adds that “There are plenty of players out there in the club rugby scene that would make great referees. This is an awesome opportunity to pick up the whistle and give it a go. The juniors will love it and I bet the ones with the whistle will want to do it again afterwards too.“