Alistair Payne still gets butterflies, even though he will whistle a record ninth consecutive premier club final when he takes to Trust House Memorial Park for this afternoon’s Chris ‘Moose’ Memorial Cup blockbuster between Carterton and Greytown.
The decider moves Payne ahead of New Zealand Rugby referee great Bob Francis, who controlled eight grand finals between 1976 and 1987 and refereed almost 100 first-class games, including 10 internationals.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” said Payne, “Each of the eight finals have been completely different games with different challenges and different styles of play from the teams. Most have been really close, and I’d expect this one to be no different.”
Even after eight finals, the thrill of being appointed to the supreme event in Wairarapa-Bush club rugby has not diminished for the 36-year-old Wairarapa College teacher.
“Definitely get excited, and there is obviously some added pressure, but it is important to keep things simple and have processes to deal with what unfolds in front of you. Every final is exciting, and I still get butterflies, and this is what sport is about, and for us grassroots referees, the final is also the pinnacle.
Despite his vast finals experience, Payne sticks to a simple routine leading into kickoff, “making sure the toss and team checks are done early, the comms checks are done, warm up, go over key focusses and visualise what I think will happen, and the last 10 minutes before kick-off, just try to relax.”
Payne will also have a simple message to the teams that it’s their game, and it is important they work with him to contribute positively towards the game.
“We will be looking to enable them to play the game fairly, with space and ball speed to put on an entertaining display of rugby.
“Both have shown they have solid set pieces and a dominant scrum of late, so I’m anticipating a really tough battle up front to gain ascendancy.
“Aside from that, both teams have good defence and like to attack at every opportunity, and both have players in the backline who are capable of breaking tackles, getting into space and creating moments of brilliance.
“I think the concept of Greytown experience versus Carterton flamboyance is going to be really interesting to see; the two different game plans and the way they adapt to what happens in front of them. Finals require cool heads, and decision-making is key.”