Francis receives top IRB ref award

REFFED THE BEST: Bob Francis refereeing a festival match in Tawa in the late 1980s, featuring All Black Murray Mexted, rear, and Australian great Nick Farr-Jones.
REFFED THE BEST: Bob Francis refereeing a festival match in Tawa in the late 1980s, featuring All Black Murray Mexted, rear, and Australian great Nick Farr-Jones.

The man who let rugby's "match of the century" flow has been given the international game's top award - but to Bob Francis, his greatest reward is simply to have had the best seat in the house at so many memorable games.

The former whistler received the International Rugby Board's Referee Award for Distinguished Service in a ceremony in Auckland last night, ahead of tonight's Junior World Championship final.

The former Masterton mayor struggled to express the sheer pleasure of watching top rugby up close. "After the great games, you come off feeling . . . it's one of the great motivations to get involved [in refereeing] - it is the best seat in the house."

LET THE GAME FLOW: Bob Francis has been given rugby's top award.
LET THE GAME FLOW: Bob Francis has been given rugby's top award.

Although his stellar rugby refereeing and administration career has spanned 50 years, close to 100 first-class games, 10 tests and three World Cups, Francis counted 15 Wairarapa-Bush club rugby finals among his fondest memories. "In my era, club rugby had a far greater profile. We didn't have Super rugby."

Another change was a more distant relationship between referees and players. Sean Fitzpatrick, Andy Haden and Peter Sloane were three captains with "strong personalities", who "tried to put a bit of pressure on the ref", but always with respect and fairness.

Technology had also evolved and referees and touch judges needed to show "more courage" in making tough calls before involving the television match official, he said.

Francis controlled 12 Ranfurly Shield games, including the 1985 Lancaster Park "match of the century", in which Auckland ended Canterbury's 25-match hold on the shield. "All the great players of that era played . . . It was an incredible game of rugby."

Another highlight was refereeing Argentina against France in the South Americans' return, at home, to international competition after the Falklands War.

The Dominion Post