Craig Joubert: Beyond the field

Thu, 20 Oct 2016 10:39

IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Paul Dobson spoke to Craig Joubert about the life of a referee - both on and off the field.

Craig Joubert is one of the world's top referees. He is also well educated, a son, a husband and a father.

Craig's career has been a great one and it started with his father, Des, who played, coached and refereed rugby with infectious enthusiasm. Father Des taught and coached successfully at DHS and so Craig was born in Durban and grew up at the great school. Des then moved to Carter High School in Pietermaritzburg and so the family went there as well.

Des joined the Midlands Referees' Society and reached provincial status. The annual award to the Midlands Referee of the Year is called the Des Joubert Trophy. In 2016 the winner was Craig Joubert.

Craig went to school in Pietermaritzburg and played rugby as a flyhalf or a fullback and played for KwaZulu Natal at the Under-13 Craven Week, but his more relevant education was on the touchline when his father was refereeing, often at Woodburn Oval in Pietermaritzburg when club rugby had greater importance and other matches were only occasional. Craig would be ballboy to games his father refereed and that was the most important refereeing help he had on his way to the 2011 World Cup Final.

Craig said of his father: "He had a special way with people, able to connect with people of all social classes and ages and this combined with his obvious love of the game, made him a highly popular referee.

"Sadly my dad was fighting cancer and was only around for the first four years of my refereeing career, but having him mentor me through my first steps into refereeing greatly shaped me as a referee and as a person.

"I'll never forget the first thing he taught me about refereeing, before he taught me anything about the technicalities of the laws, was that 'refereeing is essentially about managing people. Speak to people how you would like to be spoken to and you are likely to earn respect in return.' It's something I've always tried to remember. It's obviously something my Dad got right as still, today, men like Bob Skinstad remember being refereed by my Dad as a schoolboy and like to reminisce about how much they appreciated him as a referee and person."

Des Joubert died in 1995 and when Craig was appointed to the Final of the 2011 World Cup, at 33 the youngest referee to be appointed to the final so far, his first thought was of his Dad.

"I hope he is sitting up there somewhere watching. I like to think that."

Maritzburg College is a great school and has a grand rugby history. Apart form getting many boys to play, they also develop referees. Two of their schoolboy referees have refereed at World Cups - Ian Rogers in 1995 and Craig Joubert in 2011.

In 1992, when he was 15, he joined the Midlands referees' Society and carried it on when he was at University.

Craig speaks of his early start: "I always advise young referees to be driven by the love of contributing to a game of rugby through refereeing and not by the ambition of refereeing professional rugby. Some of my best mates still today are ones I started refereeing with as schoolboys.

"On Saturday mornings we would referee multiple games at Maritzburg College and loved every minute. Later as university students we would travel to 'glamorous' venues such as Kokstad and Newcastle in KwaZulu Natal and referee club rugby for the princely sum of petrol money, [As my mate used to say 'if we filled up the car with the petrol money we received we would run out of petrol half way there!'] and a few beers in the clubhouse with the teams afterwards.

"Still one of my favourite rugby memories is travelling to Kokstad as a team of three university student referees to referee at a schoolboy festival and the night ending in the early hours of the morning around the piano in the school hall with the coaches and referees in good voice!

"And so while I studied a bachelor of commerce degree and then went on to complete an honours degree in business finance I continued to referee and have fun contributing to club rugby.

"I ended up being accepted on to Standard Corporate and Merchant Banks graduate program and had five years based in their Corporate banking division. This time in Corporate South Africa was really good for me and introduced me to the real world. The interaction I had with senior Directors of some of South Africa's biggest corporate entities really allowed me to grow as a person.

"At the same time my refereeing career was progressing and when I started to referee Super 12 and Test Rugby and the travel demands started to become too onerous I was offered a full time contract by SARU."

Travelling? It sounds romantic but it is a major problem for many of the top referees. It goes beyond the repeated sameness of visits - same liaison man, same hotel, same laundry, same coffee shop and so on. It goes right to the strain on relationships and even the difficulty of establishing relationships.
 
When asked why he retired, Watson said immediately: "The travel." In 1999  he was out of South Africa for 224 nights. Add 30 nights away from home in South Africa and you get just over 100 nights at home. Jonathan Kaplan speaks of being away from home for 216 days in 2000 and the change that settling down provided after 16 years roaming the rugby world. At the end of it he said: Ultimately, I would like to start a family and have a 'normal' life."

For Craig travel has changed for him: "The travel has changed somewhat over the years. Four-hour road trips in my battered student car have been replaced by business class travel around the world, the dry and dusty fields of Kokstad and Newcastle replaced by Twickenham, Stade de France and Eden Park.

"Yet I have never forgotten the fun and how good club and schoolboy rugby people were to me as a young referee. It's why I recently made myself available to referee a club game in Durban on a rare off weekend. As a schoolboy referee my Mom would drive me around midweek and sit in the car reading a magazine while I refereed all manner of schoolboy rugby games in and around Pietermaritzburg and so it was special to be able to fly her to New Zealand to watch me referee the World Cup Final in 2011."

Happy memories swapped for broader travel: "Over the last 10 years I have averaged 170 days away from home every year. That's just about six months of the year away from my home and my family. I have two young children (Max 7 and Gemma 4) and although the time away from them is the toughest part of my job they seem pretty well adjusted to what I do. I immerse myself in their lives when I'm home and love the special time I get with them, subscribing firmly to 'quality vs quantity'.

"I met my wife, Charmaine, when we were both 18 and she has grown up alongside me and as refereeing has progressed. Before we had kids she travelled with me quite extensively and now she is a great Mom, independent and capable and successfully runs our home without me for half the year."

Maybe absence really does make the heart grow fonder!

In passing Craig mentioned flying his mother, Lynne, to watch him referee the 2011 World Cup Final. His progress from schools matches through club to provincial matches and on to Tests was made smoother by his referee in the Sevens Series inaugurated by the International Rugby Board, now World Rugby. Craig first came to prominence on that circuit and this very year went back to Sevens - the historic, special Sevens as a new sport in the Olympic Games. He was one of five South Africans involved in the rugby at the Rio Olympics. The others were Marius van der Westhuizen, Rasta Rasivhenge, Ben Crouse and Aimee Barrett.

Craig says: "Between 2002 and 2005 I refereed on the Sevens circuit. It still stands out and some of the best trips I've been on. On the circuit at the same time were Nigel Owens and Wayne Barnes, I have great memories and they remain very special friends."

In that time Craig refereed Sevens finals in Brisbane (2002), George (2002, 2003 and 2005), Wellington (2004 and 2005), Los Angeles (2004 and 2005), Hong Kong (2004) and Bordeaux (2004) - 10 in all and in 2005 he refereed the Final of the Sevens World Cup in Hong Kong. But he dreamt of even more.

Craig says: "When I heard that rugby Sevens would be an Olympic sport I immediately dreamt about how special it would be to officiate at the world's greatest sporting occasion. Paddy O'Brien (World Rugby's Sevens high performance manager) made it clear to me that I would need to commit to at least six tournaments through the 2016 Sevens series and prove myself onfield and also off field as an accepted and valuable member of the very close knit and special 'referee team' they had developed.

"This meant an even fuller year from a travelling perspective as I continued to referee a full roster in Super Rugby as well as Test commitments through the Six Nations, June internationals and the Rugby Championship.  Fortunately I found the Sevens series to be as wonderful as I remembered. The 'sevens family' that is the players, coaches, referees, officials really all contribute to what is pretty special environment and I found myself re energised by the time I spent in this space.

"The Olympic games was a fitting finale to a really special time I had on the Sevens series this year. It was incredible to be a part of this great sporting occasion. We attended the opening ceremony and had time to watch some women's beach volleyball and swimming and to be in Rio and feel the Olympic vibe as the world descended on this city was everything I imagined it would be."

Paddy O'Brien, who was the IRB's elite referees' manager before doing the same for the Sevens, once said that in his opinion Craig was the best referee the rugby world has ever seen. That was about the time when he was appointed to the Final between New Zealand and France, which New Zealand won narrowly. He was also at the 2015 World Cup and refereed a quarterfinal as Owens refereed the Final.

But over and above that Craig has refereed 67 Tests since his first Test in 2003 when Namibia played Uganda in Windhoek, 103 Super Rugby matches since his first in 2005 when the Waratahs played the Chiefs in Sydney, including the Finals in 2010, 2013 and 2014, and over 80 Currie Cup matches, including the finals in 2010 and 2014. His first Currie Cup match was in Kimberley in 2003 - Griqualand West vs the Pumas of Mpumalanga.

Craig Paul Joubert was born in Durban on  8 November 1977. He is a credit to his family, his community and to rugby football - a referee and more than just that.  He is certainly a credit to the memory of his father.

By Paul Dobson
@rugby365com