If every referee were like Danial Bremner the Wellington Rugby Union wouldn't have a problem.
That's because Bremner is something of a super ref.
Three weeks ago the 36-year-old refereed a match on Friday night, another on Saturday, then took sole charge of eight games of sevens in a single day. A week later he did three matches back to back.
"I worked it out to about about four hours of straight running in three days once I factored in the Sunday, something like that," he said of his refereeing marathon.
"I'm a multi-sporter so it's good training. The next weekend I had a similar thing. I had a Friday game, then three in a row on the Saturday, so that was effectively the same again."
Bremner's not alone in officiating multiple matches most weekends with Wellington in the grip of a referee's shortage.
The union needs 170 available referees each season to fully cover every match through secondary schools and senior club grades, but is about 30 short this season.
When inevitable unavailability because of work, illness or holiday are factored in each weekend, there is a major shortfall most weekends, meaning referees like Bremner are being stretched to the limit.
The former Nayland College first XV player has been whistling up a storm for the past two years and said he'd be "bored" if he didn't have such a busy schedule.
However, Wellington referees education officer David Walsh said the reality was most referees didn't have the time to do more than one match on a Saturday.
Unfortunately, he said, the next generation of players were not trading their boots for whistles.
"Work is definitely one of the major issues," Walsh said.
"‘It is very similar to the reasons player numbers are dropping off, but one of the things that has been a major impact is that . . . it is rare now for people to stop playing because of age or whatever and then pick up a whistle.
"A generation ago that was our sole source of referees. It was people who played the game, knew the game, then wanted to keep on participating and contributing."
The Wellington union has run five associate referees courses this year to try to boost numbers, but although a healthy 49 people have attended, 46 of them wanted only to be involved at Small Blacks level.
Bremner, whose day job is as a driving instructor for police, hopes more people will discover the joys and fitness benefits of being a referee.
"As a general rule, people are great. A couple of weeks ago I had both sidelines applaud, that was pretty cool," he said.
"Every now and then you have things like that, or coaches will come up and say ‘really well reffed, thanks for that, really well managed and loved your safety at the breakdown'.
"Those times overrule any time you have the odd lippy person on the sidelines.
"You just have to know within yourself you've been fair. There is always self-serving bias on the sidelines."
If there are no referees for secondary school or club matches, Wellington rugby bylaws state a substitute referee can take over, but only if they have completed the union's safety course requirements.
The Wellington union will be running an associate referee's course at the Petone Workingman's Club from 6pm tomorrow.
- The Dominion Post
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