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Shattered dream; glorious reality

Tue, 08 Oct 2013 14:49
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He is well suited to refereeing
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Sometimes, it seems, dreams do come true. They have just come true for Stuart Berry whom the IRB has appointed to his very first Test less than a month away.

When he was a young referee setting out, Stuart Berry had dreams of fields of glory and those dreams seemed well on the way to coming true as he and his whistle travelled the world with increasing kudos and rich experience. At home he grew in stature, and then came the crash.

The dream was shattered, just when it seemed to becoming more and more real. He was on his way to catch a flight from King Shaka International to referee a match. His arm was shattered, broken in 22 places. That was at the end of September 2012, just over a year before the IRB picked Berry for his very first Test, There is something phoenix-like in his recovery.

His first Test is way above normal first Tests. For South African that seems usually  to be somewhere in Africa, just as Antipodeans have the Pacific Islands and the Europeans the various levels of FIRA-AER.  Berry's first Tests is Japan against New Zealand in Tokyo - world's champions against the World Cup hosts in 2019. There is nothing obscure about such a match.

It has been a long road for Berry who, like Jonathan Kaplan, Craig Joubert, Steve Walsh, Wayne Barnes and many others, started when he was at school. His coach at Hillcrest High, John Cafeterio, took his players on a refereeing course and while still at school  and he got to referee some lower league matches.

Durban born (on 10 June 1982), growing up in Hillcrest, he went to the University of KwaZulu Natal after school and spent six years there, ending with a Masters degree in Hydrology. And then too, he continued refereeing.

In 2001 he joined the KwaZulu Natal Referees' Society enjoying the guidance of Phil Botha and Roger Hay and the opportunities they created for the teenager. Two years later he was refereeing 1st league rugby and was on SA Referees' C panel. Two years later he was on the B panel and in 2010 he was chosen for SARU's elite panel.

In 2009 Berry started refereeing on the IRB's Sevens circuit and made a name for himself in 10 tournaments over two seasons when Jason Jaftha was often his travelling companion. They both refereed tournament Finals, Berry in fact five of them. It certainly set him on the path to success and he remembers two of those Finals as highlights in his career - Samoa vs New Zealand in Las Vegas in 2012 and England vs New Zealand in Dubai in 2011.

Fifteens beckoned. in 2010 he refereed his first Currie Cup match (Lions vs Cheetahs) and in 2012 his first Super Rugby match (Cheetahs vs Force). He had a good trip to the 2013 Junior World Championship in France. Others who were there are also refereeing November Tests - Dudley Phillips, Luke Pearce, Mike Fraser, Marius Mitrea and Ian Davies. Now Berry is an established referee in both competition and - one hopes - on the way to being an established Test referee.

He is well suited to refereeing - a prudent, efficient, thoughtful man who can decide quickly and firmly. He understands the game and he understands referees, having a sharp knowledge of the Laws. He is fit, fast and determined.

Before he had a motor licence his parents, Peter and Marijke, drove him to matches and have been his keen supporters through out. He still lives down at the Durban coast, running his own firm - Impi Concept Events, staging adventure sport events and music concerts across South Africa. Peter and Marijke are still as supportive as ever and so is girlfriend Kim.

When André Watson heard of Berry's appointment, he was delighted and said: “Great to see that good performances are being recognized and rewarded. Stu is a referee for the future on the international scene and we wish him all the best. He has worked incredibly hard over the years and is a fantastic team member of the SA referees team of referees. He deserves this break as the 68th test referee of SA and he should feel immensely proud – as we are.”

By Paul Dobson

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