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Francis honoured to receive cap

Bob Francis, front row fourth from right, at NZR international referee capping ceremony at Eden Park. PHOTOS/GETTY IMAGES


New Zealand rugby refereeing great Bob Francis was buzzing after receiving his international cap at a ceremony at Auckland’s Eden Park last Friday.

Bob Francis speaking at the capping ceremony.

Francis, 80, was one of 42 present and former test referees at the capping event, along with representatives of 12 deceased referees in attendance to collect the cap on behalf of their loved ones.

Each of the referees received a traditional rugby cap from NZR president Max Spence embroidered with the silver fern, New Zealand Referee number and first test details, in what Francis described as a ‘very special occasion’.

“NZ Rugby did it with a lot of style, and it was just an outstanding Friday and then we all went to the test on Saturday so it was a great weekend,” Francis said.

“The capping was special but also it was a reunion in many respects because a lot of the guys we haven’t seen each other for a long time, especially the older buggers like us.

“It was quite a buzz really, I suppose it’s something for the family for the future and something they can hold on to and it was recognition I suppose of achieving something in the sport so it was pretty special.”

Francis took up the whistle as an 18-year-old in 1961 after asthma hindered his playing career. He went on to officiate in almost 100 first-class games, including 12 Ranfurly Shield games, with the highlight being the 1985 “Game of the Century”, won by Auckland 28-23 over Canterbury, and 10 test matches.

His debut test was in 1984 between Fiji and Western Samoa [as they were then known] in Suva, and won by the home side 17-10.

The first two tests on Australia’s groundbreaking 1984 tour of Britain rank among Francis’s favourite memories.

The Alan Jones-coached Wallabies defeated England 19-3, and Ireland 16-9 in those games, and went on to achieve their first Grand Slam. The outstanding side included the brilliant first-five Mark Ella, who scored a try in all four tests, the mercurial winger David Campese, and 1991 World Cup-winning captain Nick Farr-Jones.

The caps for the capping ceremony.

In 1986 Francis controlled two Five-Nation tests – Wales’ 22-15 victory over Scotland at Cardiff Arms Park, and Scotland’s 33-6 demolition of England at Murrayfield. He also whistled the IRB [now World Rugby] centenary match between the British and Irish Lions, and the Rest, at Cardiff Arms Park, and won by the Rest 15-7.

Unlike today’s referees, who are well-paid professionals, Francis was an amateur and only received a small daily allowance similar to touring players.

“It was quite difficult because I had four children, and a wife at home, and it wasn’t easy, especially when I was away and some of those trips to the northern hemisphere you were away for four weeks. Referees today are extremely well paid, which is good.”

After hanging up the whistle Francis served as chairman of the NZ Rugby Referees Association for 14 years, and was on the referee selection panel for World Rugby. At the 2014 World Rugby Awards, he was presented with the World Rugby Referee Award for distinguished service to the game as a referee.

NZR head of training and education and former test referee Bryce Lawrence was a key driver of the capping project. Lawrence said the event was particularly important for the amateur test referees.

“About 70 of our 86 referees were involved through the amateur era of rugby and they’ve given up 20 to 30 years of their lives to refereeing simply because they loved the game. The life I’ve had in rugby has treated me well and as more recent referees we’ve been doing this professionally. For me, this day is special because I get to see how much it means to those people.”

Eighty-six New Zealand referees [79 men and seven women] have been appointed to international rugby, from William Garrard in 1899 to the most recent debut by Larissa Woolerton last month.

Work commitments prevented Wairarapa-Bush’s other international referee Rebecca Mahoney from attending the capping ceremony.

Chris Cogdale
Chris Cogdale
Chris “Coggie” Cogdale has extensive knowledge of sport in Wairarapa having covered it for more than 30 years, including radio for 28 years. He has been the sports guru at the Wairarapa Times-Age since 2019.

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