Referees are said to enjoy the "best seat on the stand" and Lyall Daines has occupied his for the past 50 years.
A New Zealand Rugby Union certificate marks his long-term commitment to the national sport, but plans for its formal presentation on September 21 were postponed after Lyall had a heart attack the previous day.
Heart problems are hereditary, he says from his home in Blenheim this week. His father Vern had a fatal heart attack and cardiac problems started for Lyall in 2006. Angioplasty stents were inserted then and some more were inserted the other day, keeping the condition under control.
Lyall will be presented with the 50 years' certificate at the Marlborough Rugby Referees Association AGM in November. He has been a member since his rugby-playing days were prematurely stopped by three severe concussions incurred during games. That left the 18 year old "pretty devastated," he remembers, but he went along with Vern to a referees' meeting and was named the referee for an under-11 representative game the following Sunday.
That was 1964. Two years later he received the Fred Phillips Cup as the most improved referee with under five year's experience, an honour that followed Vern's presentation with the cup in 1949.
Asked what makes a good referee, Lyall says: "You have to be fit and fast. You must apply the laws of the game, be constant and be neutral."
Injury is not uncommon in the aggressive, contact sport so playing by the rules is to everyone's advantage.
Playing standards rose when rugby became a professional sport in 1996. Refereeing also became a career option but it was too late for Lyall, who had been forced to surrender his top-level whistle in 1985. Heavy work in his day-time job as a brick-layer had weakened a spinal disc and running became painful.
"But it was a wonderful era for rugby I participated in," he says.
Highlights include being named Nelson's "first choice referee" when it was challenging Marlborough for the Seddon Shield in 1979.
That same year, Lyall received the Doug Hodson Trophy for contributing the most to the success of the Marlborough Referees Association during the season. That recognition was given a further 11 times, most recently this year.
In 1980 Lyall refereed his first Ranfurly Shield match then went to Western Samoa to coach referees and players over there.
Rugby tore New Zealand apart the next year when it hosted the 1981 South African Springbok tour. Lyall weighed up the arguments against supporting matches against the all-white visiting team, then allowed his name to go on the list of referees. In the end, the match he was to do was cancelled after mass protests had stretched police resources. Instead, Lyall ended up refereeing a game in Seddon between Awatere and a visiting Canadian team.
Later that year, ongoing problems with his slipped disc forced him to pull out of refereeing a match between England and Southland.
"It was the hardest call I have ever made. This in effect, was the end of my active refereeing career, at the top level."
Lyall has since served on the New Zealand Ruby Referees Association, been awarded life membership of the Marlborough association and, as its president for the past 11 years, coached many referees.
"I have been encouraged, and I now encourage other people to get involved in refereeing and to help them develop."
- The Marlborough Express
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