The eternal question of the North / South divide in rugby. Two different styles, both ruled by the same laws. But how does that affect the referee? The team at ACME Whistles caught up with Ben O’keeffe to find out what it’s like from behind the whistle.
Fundamentally speaking, rugby is the same game, ruled under the same guidance wherever it is played. A penalty is a penalty no matter where the offence takes place right?
“It’s interesting, because I have my foundations my philosophies, so I’ll go out and referee a game exactly the same way whether it’s in the southern hemisphere, or the Northern Hemisphere,” says Ben when we spoke to him.
“The game is so quick and at that level whether you are overseeing a Six Nations game or you’re refereeing in the Rugby Championship, you have to rely on your instinct and what you’ve learned overtime so you can make the best decision out in the field.
“What I do notice though, is that when I’m referring in the southern hemisphere it’s very different to the northern hemisphere. In the north I’m refereeing more lineout to maul and I’m having to referee a lot more scrums. Whether that’s the way the teams wanting to play, or is the weather conditions – I don’t know; so you just have to pull out a different part of your game and you refer it more.”
You say that the laws and the way you referee them is consistent, but do you see any difference between how teams from the north and south approach the game?
“Absolutely. For example I’ve noticed in at Six Nations games points are everything. So if a team gets a shot at goal and it’s within 50 metres, then teams are pretty much going to kick it.
How does that affect your approach to the game?
“Obviously we want to be really accurate with every decision but depending on where an infringement occurs brings an even higher awareness around awarding a penalty and how long you run advantage. As we know that potentially northern hemisphere teams will want to kick it, we have to make a decision as to whether we play advantage or come back for a shorter advantage because we know that they want the option of taking the points.
“Whereas in the southern hemisphere, there is much more of a tendency to kick to touch or send it wide to score a try, so they want to use the period of advantage to its full extent.”
Ultimately, as a referee, do you prepare and adapt to the different styles?
“We are always aware of the different styles, but I think you just adapt to that with your preparations and style on the day – every game is different regardless of where the teams come from.
“Some of the biggest open running rugby the most tries I’ve seen in the game have been games I’ve done in the northern hemisphere. It’s about being adaptable when I think you’ve both styles are really good for rugby.”
What do you prefer, North or South?
“I love games where you have a northern hemisphere team play a southern hemisphere team because you really see those styles clash – and I recon they bring some awesome games together.”