Laying down the right laws

I AM THE LAW: Veteran referee Vinny Munro is charged with bringing through new whistleblowing talent.
I AM THE LAW: Veteran referee Vinny Munro is charged with bringing through new whistleblowing talent.

Vinny Munro used to feel collars on the beat with current All Blacks coach Steve Hansen.

But the former international whistleblower will soon be tapping shoulders as he searches for a new generation of rugby referees.

Munro, at 43, is still in his refereeing prime, but his bosses have called time on his on-field career and charged him with developing future talent.

But the Christchurch resident won't just have his eye on referees - he'll be trying to entice senior club and professional players, All Blacks even, to consider refereeing as a career.

The former Pleasant Point senior club player - who refereed his last representative game on home turf in Timaru last month - doesn't appear to harbour any bitterness about the fork in his rugby career.

Sanzar - the organising body for Super Rugby and the Rugby Championship - appoints its international referees on a four-yearly cycle.

"In 2011, Sanzar said no more for me," Munro said, matter-of-factly. "It was just a matter of whether they saw me at the next World Cup as a referee and they didn't.

"That's their decision but it then has contractual issues because New Zealand contracts its Super referees.

"If you're not on that panel, then your contract can be terminated.

"The decision's made for you but I've got no regrets at all."

The New Zealand Rugby Union stepped in and offered Munro a chance to continue as a professional referee but now he is "starting shortly" a new job as a fulltime high performance referee development manager, "which I've been doing this year as well".

"Middle-management, you'd call it!"

He still plans to referee the occasional club rugby game in Christchurch and will serve as a television monitoring officer (TMO) at professional level.

"This job will take me all around New Zealand but when I'm back in town, I'd love to do the odd game at whatever level, whether it's seniors, or kids, or first XV, which I really enjoy. The reason for that is that's where it all started and I owe it to the area to help out. Never forget where you come from."

Munro first took up the whistle as a 17-year-old at Pleasant Point, refereeing junior games in the mornings before his own matches in the afternoon. He has a fond memory, as a player, of marking a "young, pimply-faced" opponent who "went on to become an international player" - former Highlanders and Scotland outside back Brendan Laney.

"I have much delight in telling him every time I see him, that I ran around him and scored." Munro had a couple of seasons of senior rugby as a fullback or wing but a police career beckoned.

His first police partner in Christchurch was Steve Hansen, who was making a mark as a club coach.

Hansen's brother, Kelly, who also became a representative coach, was in the same group.

So how did the former police partners get on later when Hansen was coaching professional rugby and Munro was the man in the middle?

"You know what he's like - the referee's never right," Munro quipped.

Munro said shift work made it difficult to commit to playing for a team so he devoted his energies to refereeing from 1996. "I never, for one moment, thought it would give me a career. I did it purely to keep fit and keep active in the community in a game I enjoyed and loved."

He rose to the senior club ranks in 1999 and refereed his first representative match in 2001 - Wairarapa Bush v North Otago in Masterton.

Munro advanced through the National Provincial Championship system to become a Super Rugby referee in 2009, making his test debut the same year in Tokyo, taking charge of Canada v Japan.

He has two major highlights - "the first and biggest one for me was being selected as an AR [assistant referee] for the 2009 Lions tour of South Africa". "I never knew it was coming . . . I got a phone call to say: you're on the international AR panel, you've got four appointments, the first one is in Canada and then you go to South Africa for three weeks."

Munro worked in a four-man team alongside fellow Kiwi ref and friend Bryce Lawrence.

"That was special . . . an amazing experience."

He was "on the line for all three tests" and said the atmosphere at the South African stadia was "out of this world" - especially at Pretoria where "half the stadium was green and the other half was red".

"When you were caught up in it, you didn't realise how big it was. The reality kicked in when you got home."

He also treasured his six matches as an AR at the 2011 Rugby World Cup and insists the controversial kick by Wales' James Hook against South Africa at Wellington "didn't go over".

"I read in the paper the next morning, it wasn't over, so that must be right.

"It certainly didn't."

Munro was criticised by the Welsh camp but quips he's "still waiting for my tickets to Wales" from Welsh defence coach Shaun Edwards, who suggested the Cantabrian would be greeted as warmly in Cardiff as English referee Wayne Barnes would be by the New Zealand public.

But the criticism cut no ice with Munro.

"It's like anything, you're under pressure, you've got to make a decision and my decision was right." He says a police career is a perfect background for a rugby referee because "police are dealing with conflict".

"Your best weapon, when it comes to conflict, is your voice." Not that he was deaf to the abuse. "You hear it but you counter it. I was never one to back down. I stopped a game and walked over to a guy and said: here's the whistle, fill your boots.

"He kept quiet [after that]."

Munro "blew a hamstring" - his first injury - and missed most of this season.

But he asked to go back to his rugby roots for his final game - South Canterbury v Hanan Shield rivals Mid-Canterbury at Timaru.

"It was nice to play in front of Mum and Dad, who are in their 80s; that was quite cool.

"But it was the worst weather ever." Munro prided himself on his man-management and communication - skills honed in the police - and only ever sent one player off. The culprit was "an under-14 player".

"The area I struggle with at the moment is the abuse [in all sports]. I think we all need to look at ourselves and be better. If you haven't got a referee, you haven't got a game, in all sports, not just rugby. The other fact is the referee is human and humans make errors every day . . . it's a fact of life. You just try to minimise the errors."

The Press