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‘Special’ series for referees

French rugby referee Romain Poite (left), Pukaha Mount Bruce conservation manager Todd Jenkins and former Lions player John Jeffrey get up close with a North Island Brown Kiwi at Pukaha Mount Bruce National Wildlife Centre in Wairarapa. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

By Jake Beleski

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It takes a strong presence to maintain control of 30 men trying to belt each other into oblivion.

That is exactly what you get with rugby referee Romain Poite, who has been the man in the middle for 53 test matches.

Poite, 41, has a calm demeanour, and knows that he has only done his job well when people are talking about the result, and not his performance.

Fresh from refereeing the Hurricanes against the British and Irish Lions in Wellington on Tuesday night, Poite made the trip north yesterday after an invite from former mayor of Masterton and international rugby referee, Bob Francis.

The affable Frenchman will be an assistant referee for Saturday’s second test in Wellington, and will take control of the third and final test in Auckland a week later.

Also in the touring party to Masterton was former Scotland and British and Irish Lions flanker, John Jeffrey.

Poite was pleased with how Tuesday’s thrilling match that ended in a 31-31 draw had played out.

“It was a great atmosphere, and the drama of the game was as well.

“I think we really enjoyed what happened in the match, and it was a very good game to referee.”

It was a special tour to be a part of because the three referees for the tests, Jaco Peyper (South Africa), Jerome Garces (France) and Poite, as well as television match official George Ayoub (Australia), will be officiating in all three tests in one way or another.

That gave them an opportunity to spend more time together than they would usually get.

“We are very close together, rather than when we usually arrive the day before and leave the day after,” Poite said.

“We have our individual preparations for the game and to find the right way for the refereeing, positioning and everything like that.”

Referees felt nervous before a big match just as players do, but they had all been through enough in their careers to prepare them for the big occasions, he said.

“We have enough experience now to approach with a free mind, but we have to control our thoughts and feelings and sometimes in the day it goes higher than usual.

“We have experience and support which allows us to have a good approach.”

Poite has refereed in New Zealand before, but had never visited Wairarapa.

He was off to visit the Pukaha Mount Bruce Wildlife Centre yesterday, but had to head back to Wellington today to prepare for Saturday’s test.

He said it was a very good opportunity to discover another part of the country.

Lions tours are special to players because they only come around once every four years, and visits to New Zealand occur once every 12 years.

It was also a special tour for referees, Poite said.

“On the rugby planet, it’s one of the best games to referee because we have a strong side with the All Blacks, and a strong side with the British and Irish players.

“I realised that four years ago because I was refereeing the third test in Australia — even when you are not British you can realise how big it is when you are involved.”

After visiting Mount Bruce, Poite was going to review his performance from Tuesday’s match, before taking up the unfamiliar position of guest speaker at last night’s Rugby Yarns function at Copthorne Hotel in Masterton.

“I’m really looking forward to that — I have a lot of respect for Bob Francis who invited me.

“I’m very pleased to be part of that and meet different people.”

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