In a new series hosted on the Big Red Blog highlighting Guinness PRO14 Officials, we caught up with Elite Referee Manager Greg Garner at their pre-season conference in Cardiff Wales, to find out about improved high-tackle processes, better consistency, and TMOs.
What’s your pre-season conference all about?
Last year when we had our conference the goal was to bring five unions together and act as one team. This year we’re building on that and really delving into the rugby and really trying to agree how we’re going to referee the Guinness PRO14 this year. Agreeing what our key priorities are, and the critical areas so that we can all be on the same page for the season, so we referee consistently well across the tournament.
It must be useful to have all your officials together in one meeting?
It is good, and this year we’re putting in a common working week for all our referees and all of our unions so that we’ve got more touchpoints on a week-to-week basis. We’ll have more conference calls, video calls and feedback sessions so we do everything as a team, just remotely instead of face to face.
What’s going to be new for Guinness PRO14 fans this season?
The game won’t change, there’s no new laws this year because we’re going into a Rugby World Cup year. The one thing that has come from World Rugby is we want to look at player welfare around the scrum – we don’t want pre-engagements where people are leaning on, the axial loading is a big issue in rugby. And then with foul play and the TMO, player safety is paramount and we want to protect our players and values, so our referees and TMOs are empowered to come down really hard on any foul play we see in the game.
Are the TMOs going to be more active in that case?
No, none more so than in the past but what we’re doing is trying to get a common process in place for when we do use the TMO. When we use the TMO process we’ll be aided by the World Rugby high-tackle process, and as such we’ve got a better chance of getting the decision right more of the time, which I think in the past has been a big criticism of referees in any competition.
What are the goals for your team in the new season?
I’ve had a lot of meetings this summer with unions, coaches and referee managers to put a plan in place. Our big goal is in getting referees to the 2023 World Cup. We’re lucky enough to get two going this time – Nigel Owens and Andrew Brace – and after the World Cup we don’t think Nigel will be there in four years’ time, we need to replace that. It’s important for us to get as many of guys as possible to the top end of the game. We’ve identified six guys who we think have the potential to be there in four years and hopefully more will come on our radar.
Are there many changes in the team?
We’ve done a lot around how we select our referees. We’ve reduced the panels, less referees, less TMOs, less assistant referees, with the aim of having less people and then more touch points with them each week. Consistency and standards will go up as a group and we’re going to referee a lot better for the Championship. We’ve also got a much more robust coaching programme in place for all our referees, so this is the first year that every union has got an elite referee coach in situ in each union. That’s really important because we see coaching as really key to reaching each referee’s potential. We’ve also got a structured coaching development programme that we ran last year for all coaches and we’re going to do that for all our referees. We want all our referees to become referee coaches.
How can you actually go about making better decisions on the pitch?
One of the big things we’ve done is we’ve recruited a fantastic analyst to work with all of our referees, Paul Larter, who was head analyst at Edinburgh Rugby for the last seven years. Everything he was doing in the team environment at Edinburgh he’ll bring to our referees. The way teams review games, with Sportscode, multiple angles with voiceovers, previewing games – Paul will look at all our analysis across the board. As far as I’m aware the English Premiership, EPCR and Top14 don’t have this analysis full-time, we’re trying to be innovative and lead the way, to make the referees in the Guinness PRO14 the best in the world.
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