Milestones leave Southland refs whistle-happy

20:00, May 14 2014
kirk rae, jimmy curran
REFEREES: Kirk Rae, top, and Jimmy Curran.

Respected rugby referees Jim Curran and Kirk Rae reached significant milestones at the same time but at different grounds last Saturday.

Both officiated for the 100th time in Southland senior club games held in the province.

Curran, 48, thoroughly enjoyed refereeing the entertaining Central Pirates/Star versus Wrights Bush clash, won 22-3 by hosts Central Pirates/Star at Wilsons Crossing.

"The game between the good rugby neighbours was full of passion and enthusiasm and showcased the fine heart country rugby is in," Curran enthused.

Rae, the referees' education officer, was running the game at Bluff's historic Foyle Street ground where the local team hosted Drummond-Limehills Star.

Rae, 37, said he would love to still be refereeing when he reached Curran's age.


Curran is also widely known as an owner and trainer in thoroughbred racing and is the son-in-law of outstandingly successful racing industry identities Kelly and Isla Thompson of East Road.

He is married to Gaylene, whose sons Josh, 22, and John, 20, have inherited some of their father's deep interest in rugby and racing.

Rae observed: "Changes to rugby rules and regulations are an on-going exercise but are not made by referees whose sole lot was to apply them properly on the playing field."

Curran, a boning room supervisor at the Alliance Group's Lorneville plant, said his overall number of games controlled at all levels would be "in excess of 1000 since I first officially blew a whistle in an Under-13 Pirates versus Old Boys game at Turnbull Thomson Park 23 years ago."

"I was the most nervous I have ever been before a game It was like sailing into uncharted waters."

Rae officiated for the first time in an Under-14 game at Nightcaps in 2000 but said his first senior game three years later at Tokanui was a daunting "baptism of fire" in an area that has produced more tough rugby forwards than refined choir boys.

Both referees subscribed to the theory that they should not be too officious when penalising players.

Curran said most rugby players accepted decisions in general but some could be "borderline" when reacting to calls against them.

Curran is acclaimed for one mannerism many felt counted in his favour at "ticklish" times when penalising players - he often wore the faintest suggestion of a smile which served to "diffuse" a tough nut.

After all, a ref might have to appreciate that players were also participating for enjoyment and the odd hiccup could arise.

"I'm pleased to report I have not experienced an unsavory incident with a player and have got through happily with nothing but good memories."

When Rae was appointed Referee Education Officer by the Southland union he played a key role in recruiting Curran who had earlier been involved as a CUE Television commentator with Tom Conroy while recovering from injury.

When CUE began to phase out of that service, Curran was free to accept a refereeing offer from Rae and has never regretted it.

Rae touched on the interesting point of the importance attached to physical fitness and other key requirements of refereeing by the many fine referee coaches and advisers that he, Curran and many others benefitted from while learning the ropes.

On reflection they appreciated that a referee wasn't worth his salt and would not progress further unless he was fit.

The likes of internationally acclaimed Dave Bishop, then of Te Anau, Trevor Proctor, Keith Brown, John Maguire, Mike Saunders and Mike Mannix played major general roles initially and Pat Quirke, Dick Russell and Alastair Ball featured in short and sharp fitness sessions specifically tailored to meet Rae's requirements.

"It was a little demanding at first but eventually we got to enjoy it," Rae recalled.

He said that there were about 65 referees in Southland but a schedule of about 55 games each weekend made stern demands on them.

He said all referees were at various stages of regular technical monitoring and guidance by respected old hands.

Curran and Rae accepted that referees had to absorb "heated sideline advice and criticism" but Curran said he would not hesitate to react if a person "stepped over the mark and became too personal."

Rae said he would always welcome genuine inquiries from those aspiring to be referees.

The Southland Times