“A lot of people out there may not know this, but referees are a competitive bunch,” Craig Joubert said as he discussed his work with the World Rugby Virtual High Performance Academy.

Joubert, a Referee Talent Development Coach at World Rugby, has led the match official stream of the Virtual HPA, sharing the knowledge he gained during a 16-year international career with the whistle with participants from around the world.

In total, 50 match officials from 25 emerging unions have taken part in the programme since it was launched earlier this year, to maintain momentum that had been gained prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

And to help keep the participants engaged while working remotely, the South African and his team — which has included Paddy O'Brien, Alain Rolland and Alhambra Nievas — have tapped into the “competitive spirit” of the referees.

During the programme, which consists of 12 modules, Joubert has used a games-based online learning tool to create competition and test knowledge.

“I wanted to try and tap into that competitive spirit that every referee I've ever come across seems to have,” Joubert explained.

“We can put clips up on the screen and everyone can give the answers. And we can see how fast they can get the answers and, probably more importantly, how accurate their answers can be. 

“And so it's a hell of a lot of fun because we get a gold medallist at the end of each Zoom call. So, every referee around the world wants to be the gold medallist and so it's great that they've got an incentive to really want and need to understand the principles in that presentation and then how to apply that when we start to look at clips. 

“But, more important than the fun aspect of having a winner at the end of each Zoom call is just, again, the platform that provides us to then stimulate conversations.”

Joubert and his colleagues are then able to challenge the participants on the answers that they have given during the quiz.

“[We] get them to articulate what they're seeing, why they answered what they would do, why they would do what they would do. Sometimes challenge them around that, sometimes get the group to rally around each other and have discussions with each other. 

“All it [means] is that Kahoot!, while adding a bit of fun, also more importantly creates those conversations and those conversations are where the growth comes.”

Reaching more match officials

Although the need for the Virtual HPA has arisen in unfortunate circumstances, Joubert and his team have benefitted from being able to reach so many match officials remotely.

“For me, the highlight is every Thursday when we get them on a Zoom call, and we've only got four or five of them on a call and we're actually having a one-on-one conversation,” he said.

“We can put clips in front of them and draw out conversations. Really get into some deep conversations, understand what they're seeing, what's going through their head [and] share what's going through our head with them. 

“Those are the valuable conversations, and that's really the part of the programme that I'm finding is just most valuable.”

The 12 modules that have made up the programme have focused on a variety of aspects of the game, including foul play, lineouts and scrums. The biggest focus, however, has been on the breakdown.

“The breakdown is that important that our first three modules were all on the breakdown,” Joubert said.

“We've had a refocus through the law group in Paris recently, around refereeing strictly according to the law book, and so it was a great starting point for us to be able to include all that feedback and intel and actually get out to these emerging nations and share it with them.”

He added: “Breakdown refereeing is probably what sets aside your good referee from your really good referee.”

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