We have teamed up with our partners at ACME Whistles to speak to Nika Amashukeli who this weekend will be making history by becoming the first referee from a tier two nation to referee a Six Nations game.
Find out more about the man behind the whistle as we take him through our traditional RUCK interview!
Age: I’m 27
Height: I know my metrics are centimetres, so it would be 1 metre in 86 centimetres. I think that would be about 6 food 1 and a half.
Fitness, what do you do to keep fit? So, we have our testing processes, we use Bronco as our fitness measurement and my best time is 4:42. We also do 10-metre explosiveness and countermovement jumping as part of the programme.
Hometown: Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia
Number of years refereeing how long have you been refereeing in total?
I’ve been refereeing eight years.
How did you get started in refereeing in rugby?
Well, I was a player and got head injuries. By age of 20 I’ve already had five head concussions. But the trigger to make a change was my mum who was worried, so I thought I probably need to move over to coaching or refereeing.
I used to play for Georgia under 17, under 18, and under 19 and played against some quality players like Billy Burns and Maro Itoje.
It was great to represent my country, but injuries meant it was the right thing to switch to the whistle.
How many games have you refereed?
In the Georgian league I have refereed approximately 120 games. I’ve also done quite a few games in the Challenge Cup and now had my first game in Champions Cup this season.
At international level, I’ve done couple of AR-ing in November tests and in the Eight Nations that was the unique championship because of pandemic.
What was your first international match behind the whistle?
My first tier one international was Wales against Canada in July, so this was my first tier one international.
My first ever international match was 6 years ago between Estonia and Montenegro.
Can you remember your first game as a referee?
Of course. When I was 19 years old, I was asked to step in and referee an under 10s kids match in Tbilisi. I was I was completely lost. I was just completely out of sync with the game; I didn’t know where to go; I didn’t know where to stand and I was all the time searching for a correct position. I missed almost everything.
What was your first set of tier one game in Georgia?
When I first took up the whistle I was introduced in top division in Georgia within a year and a half.
It was tough because there weren’t many referees. It was not a popular profession back here and Georgia.
The Georgian Rugby Union started project to involve some ex-referees and as soon I started refereeing, I was pushed up through the ranks fairly quickly.
My first club game was between Batumi and Armazi. It was quite a tough match and there was a lot of atmosphere coming from the stands. It was hard. But quickly I found my feet and the initial challenges became my strengths
What’s your favourite stadium?
I’ve been to a lot of grounds particularly in Europe, not that much in the southern hemisphere, but my favourite ground is the Principality in Cardiff. It’s just amazing. I’ve been fortunate to be there with a full crowd there. The atmosphere is just cranking.
Also, the crowd before the match and after the match around the stadium is just unbelievable as well so I fully enjoy the Cardiff experience.
If you had to pick one person as your sporting hero, who would that be?
That would have to be Georgian rugby player Mamuka Gorgodze. In my view he’s the best player Georgia have ever had.
I’ve known him for a long time and he’s a truly wonderful guy, and wonderful man.
In my view the concept of calling someone a legend on the field, is that they should be worthy of being called a legend off the field as well – and that’s so true of Mamuka.
Which is your what is your whistle of choice?
It is of course an ACME Thunderer. The one with the shorter nose is a favourite. I’ve used the same one for the last four years now, and I had another ACME whistle before that.
I like the shorter nose model as it sounds smoother when you when you whistle it, and everyone just knows that what’s happening even though you have not described your decision. If you whistle for a knock on, it sounds like a knock on; if you hear a whistle for a penalty at the breakdown, it sounds like a penalty.
What’s the biggest moment in your career so far?
My appointment for the Six Nations is absolutely the biggest moment for me so far. The Six Nations is a very special tournament in the world of rugby, and special tournament in Georgia.
Georgia has been trying to get into the in the system of Six Nations and there has been a lot of talk about if Georgia should be involved and turn it into seven nations. So, every news related to a Six Nations and Georgia being involved is massive back home.
It’s also great to be part of history as there has never been a referee from a tier two country represented in the Six Nations.
What inspired you to first pick up the whistle?
First, I was like ‘yeah let’s try this’ and when I got into it, I think the inspiration came from myself, because I’m kind of person that when I see a challenge when I see a difficulty, I’m much more focused and motivated to overcome it.
I had plenty of challenges in refereeing. My first season in the Georgian top division was so stressful from week to week, and I asked myself whether it was worth it. There was a lot of pressure coming from off the field because the Georgian crowds are not that tolerant to refereeing.
The teams are also tough to referee. The coaches would be very demanding, and players are not easy to tame. My first season was tough.
But I found the strength in myself and I was well supported by Georgina referee committee and the Georgia rugby union throughout the stages. I think that hard start has help as I’ve moved onto the international stage.
Which area of the game is the hardest to referee?
I wouldn’t say there is any hard areas to referee, but the scrum can be if you don’t understand what is happening.
A lot of people don’t really understand what’s happening right there because there are so many mechanisms and so many details to look at. It is really only the referees and front rows that understand what’s happening.
Also, breakdown make up about 70% of the game because you have you have between 200 to 250 breakdowns in a single match.
Here you need so much precision. Teams are so good at doing things at very high speed. That’s the difference at the top levels, everything just happens in split seconds and if you lose concentration, if you arrive at the breakdown in a little bit late you will miss infringements. The key around the breakdown is to be consistent from minute one until the very end.
The speed of the players and decision-making they have is just unbelievably good.
what’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen on a rugby pitch?
It maybe a surprising answer, but strangest thing is myself.
It’s quite popular with on YouTube, but it was 2018 and I was referring an under 20s Six Nations match, England v Italy.
I suddenly bumped into an Italian player when I was coming out of the line out and was clattered in my head.
Blood was pumping out so obviously I had to stop the match because there was blood coming my head. The doctors came on and said, ‘we need to stitch this, you can’t be on the pitch’.
My colleague replaced me for 12 minutes whilst I was getting stitched up, after which I happily came back out to finish refereeing the match.
I was the first ever referee to go off for a blood bin.
Who is the best player was that you’ve ever refereed?
I’ve refereed a lot of good players lot of good players like Manu Tuilagi, Johnny Sexton, George Ford, Ellis Genge – a lot of players.
Because I used to play the same position myself – the one I’d least like to line up against as a player would be Manu Tuilagi.
Who do you think is the most physical player you’ve ever refereed?
Again, that’s tough, but it’s probably Ellis Genge. He has an enormous work rate. Even though he’s on the front row he’s also blistering quick and he’s very physical.
If you got stranded on a desert island, what three things would you take with you?
I’d take my personal computer with Call of Duty game on it, I’d take a bench press – and a big container of protein shake!
Is there anything that you can’t travel without?
Yeah, I never I never travel without protein powder! Never! 😉
Do have do you have any hidden talents?
I play Call of Duty quite well and I used to stream it over the internet under a different name. I was pretty good!
I am not playing anymore because it took a lot of time to be honest, but at the start of the pandemic I took it really seriously. Playing with friends we started to takeover professional tournaments and try to make some earnings from it.
If you if you had a dinner party what would be your three dream dinner party guests?
The first one would be a referee called Steve Walsh; the second one is my coach Dave McHugh, it’s always a big pleasure to have dinner with him; and the third would be Nigel Owens.
What would you like to achieve outside rugby?
I don’t want life without rugby to be honest. I want to be involved in rugby the whole of my life because I love it so much.
After refereeing actively on the field, I’d like to help young referees, run performance reviews and all that side of the game.
If you could pick two teams in the world to referee what match would that be?
That be Saracens against Leicester.
And internationally the All Blacks against Springboks which is a super intense match and then there is England against Wales which is always a big occasion.
How do you prepare for a game, do you have any pre-game rituals?
The night before a big match I always drink two glasses of my favourite Georgian white wine.
On the game day there’s nothing really special and no big rituals. When we’re briefing the team, I like to be short, simple sharp, that’s my approach.
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