It’s a cliché that everyone loves to trot out, but my first game on Saturday really was a game of two halves. I trundled down to Otahuhu at a time I would classify as ‘only moderately obnoxiously early for a Saturday’ to referee Otahuhu versus St Kent’s seconds. St Kent’s were warming up as I got there, looking well-drilled and put together. Only a handful of their opposition had showed up, and as it got closer and closer to kickoff I worried there was going to be a default because not enough players were showing up. But they got there, in dribs and drabs, and by kickoff time they had a full squad and were only 2 minutes late onto the field.
(side note: when you have two games kicking off 75 minutes apart, and a game takes 65 minutes minimum, it would be really nice to get everyone on the field early. And as much as I try to make it happen, the players and team coaches know that despite all my posturing, I can’t actually start the game without them.)
As was expected, St Kents were much the better side in the first half, and I spent a lot of time getting Otahuhu to leave the ball alone in the rucks. Scrums were a slight mess to start with, but judicious use of free kicks sorted that out speedily, and the game was well structured and rolling along nicely in St Kent’s favour.
Then came the second half. And for whatever reason St Kent’s fell apart.
It started with a try which came from a kick-trough with a fortuitous bounce. Having followed play I was not in the best position, so I saw the Otahuhu player ground the ball with his body, but as I blew the whistle there were howls of a knock on, which I couldn’t see because of the try-scorer’s body position. There was moaning and outrage. The St Kent’s captain came haring over to me, demanding to have the decision changed and I told him to calm down, because two seconds before the try, one of his players had taken out the leading Otahuhu chaser with a soccer-style slide, sprigs up and all – So I was either awarding this try, or awarding a penalty try and if I awarded the penalty try he was losing a player, so would he like to reconsider his yelling?
He reconsidered very quickly, all things considered.
From there, Otahuhu scored three more tries considerably less controversial, and by full-time had racked up 28 points versus 13.
The second game was under 14s, and at that level your job is as much to coach as it is to referee. Actual coaches, please can we teach our young players crouching for a scrum involves bending your knees, not just folding over at the waist? Because although seeing one front row slowly tip forward into the mud is highly amusing, I think I strained something trying not to laugh out loud.
It was 17.2 km from home to Otahuhu and 22.8 back, because I got lost and took the wrong motorway.