Northern California Rugby Football Union Referee Society | Pool Is Closed For The Season
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Pool Is Closed For The Season

Yes the World Cup has completed pool play and, as expected, there were some fantastic games as well as some duds.  The New Zealand – South Africa game was high quality as expected and the New Zealand – Namibia game was a one sided affair as expected.  Wales – Australia was a nail biter and Fiji – Australia was great fun.   What was a surprise was the host nation, Japan.   Their match against Ireland was a bellwether for what was to come as they displayed high tempo attacking rugby against Ireland’s pedestrian one off crashes.   Ireland did manage a pair of quick tries with brilliant cross field kicks within the first 10 minutes, but Japan adjusted and the Irish had no other arrow in their quiver.   I fancied Ireland as a contender before the Cup but after the final 60 minutes of that match I had to revise my opinion.   They did themselves one better against Scotland, thoroughly outplaying the Scots throughout the game, with the exception of a desperate second half surge from Scotland that made the score closer than it should have been.

Unfortunately this World Cup’s pool round washed out as expected, with the same teams making the quarterfinals again.  Also, as expected, there was 1 outlier that crashed the party at the expense of one of the Power Teams from the Tri Nations and the 5 Nations.   Fiji has done it in the past and the last couple of RWCs it was Argentina, which earned them a spot in the Rugby Championship.  This year it is Japan who made it at the expense of Scotland, and deservedly so, but look at the rest: New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, England, France, Wales and Ireland.    Looks familiar, no?  

The gap between the Tier One nations and the rest of the world is still significant and until there are some major changes at World Rugby this will continue.   The proposed World League was shot down because the 6 Nations insisted that Italy be invited, even though Italy doesn’t even belong in the 6 Nations.   The Pacific Islands are regularly stripped of their top talent by the bigger nations because of the ridiculous residency qualification rule rugby uses.    Just living in a country for 3 years qualifies you to play for that country?   What is the point then?  Why not just make the World Cup about the top club teams because your nationality is irrelevant.   Yes, I know that the rule will be increased from 3 to 5 years in 2020 but that doesn’t affect this Cup.  Until this changes the top teams will continue to steal the top talent away.   You can’t blame the players because who doesn’t want a chance to play for the best team possible?  They are just following the existing rules.

 All sports have this issue, of course, but at least FIFA forces a player to become a citizen of the country they are playing for.   This is a growing problem, however, and if a solution doesn’t present itself soon the World Cup will remain an 8 team race, with an occasional invited guest from outside.

Golden Slumbers

Once there was a way to get back home, and the fastest way is to do this is to not earn a point at the World Cup (again).  The recent resurgence under Gary Gold was put to rest as the rugby world saw that the proverbial Sleeping Giant remained so, singing “Sleep pretty darling do not cry/And I will sing a lullabye”.

For the first time ever the United States had sent a fully professional side to the World Cup.  That is progress.   Unfortunately, most of these professionals came from a league that is in its second year.   We are relying too much on players who can dominate with pure athleticism in a nascent league.   Paul Lasike was badly exposed in the centers.  I love his athleticism but he doesn’t have the skills or the lateral movement to be a back.  Make him a prop and let him use his strength there, pounding the scrums and bashing off the side of the breakdown and, most importantly, tackling fellow forwards who will run straight and hard but rarely sidestep.    Then we get to AJ Maginty.   He is a marvelous player at his club in England but in this Cup he was either brilliant or horrible.  He doesn’t seem to have a middle ground when playing with the USA.   Maybe the players around him are not making the same reads or maybe he is trying too hard to pull off that million dollar move, but he turned over too much possession to justify the few bright spots.

People point to Japan and say “Hey!  Look what they are doing!  They are a tier 2 nation as well so we should be as good as they are!”.   The problem with that is that Japan has had a well funded professional league since the 1990s when the game went professional worldwide.   It has taken them 2 decades to get to the point they are now and this is a process that can’t be sped up by much at all.  After 25 years the MLS soccer league has grown to the point where is it amongst the best attended leagues in the world and on solid financial ground.   The USA is still no threat to with the FIFA World Cup, however, and didn’t even qualify for the last one.  

We must be patient.  We have barely begun our quest towards rugby relevancy; I only aske these few things:

  1. Don’t get too excited when overseas players at the end – or even the middle of their careers – decide to come over to play in MLR.   Yes, they are great players but they will not have the same quality around them that they had in their respective counties.  
  2. To get too jaded when overseas players at the end – or even the middle of their careers – decide to come over to play in MLR.   American rugby players, coaches and fans need to see what a true rugby professional looks like up close and learn from him.  Habits, skills, physicality, but most important, the mental toughness needed to excel at top levels.  
  3. Speaking of mental toughness, when you have that available… USE IT!   Our 7s team is tried and tested on the world stage.  They play everyone without fear and win.  They are #2 in the world after having held the top spot for nearly 6 months.   They have the mentality to overcome adversity and win.  Why was Pinkleman not starting every game?   When he was on the field he was an impact player and possibly our best player.   Iosefo was stuck out on the wing and starved of the ball as we constantly kicked possession away.   Put those two in the centers and you have a pair who know each other well and can operate in open spaces.  As 7s players, their position is wherever they are on the field so don’t tell me that Pinkleman is a forward and Iosefo is a wing.  
  4. For the love of any god that may be listening STOP WITH THE BOX KICKING!   American scrumhalves are obsessed with this tactic and all it does is give away possession.   Defensively we work very hard to gain possession and then knock out a few phases where we gain some ground and recycle the ball.   Then what?   Mr Scrummy strolls up to the breakdown and makes sure everyone is in place – checking and double checking – then eventually kicks the ball to the opposition for an uncontested catch and counter.   I say uncontested for ALL of these kicks because even when we did have someone near the ball as it came down, they generally watched the opposition catch the ball and then tried to tackle.   There are some teams in the world that box kick well and accurately.  We are not one.  Stop doing it.   If I see someone box kick in a game I am refereeing this year I am going to penalize them for being an idiot and playing “against the spirit of the game” see if I don’t!

All A Board!

Last week was the NCFURS AGM and we elected a new Board of Directors.  Congratulations to Pete Smith, Neil MacDonald, Lee Bryant Powers, Tim Lew and Grant MacDoogle.   As is required, the first act they performed was to elect a President.   With Paul Bretz moving to the Pacific Northwest the position was vacant and filled by…

Great Scot!

Congratulations to Neil MacDonald on his selection as President of the Northern California Rugby Union Referee Society.   He is replacing Paul Bretz who served us well and will become the 6th President the NCRFURS has had since its inception.   As Bruce Carter pointed out, this is quite an exclusive club and they, by tradition, refer to each other by number, and the Roman numeral at that.  Thus, Ed Todd was III, Bruce Carter was IV, Paul Bretz was V and Neil MacDonald becomes VI.

To honor our new president I have designed a salute that we all can use to greet him: raise your right hand palm inward with your index and middle fingers extended but spreading away from each other while clenching the rest of your fingers in a fist while at the same time raise your left hand palm inward with only your middle finger extended.   This will make a very respectful VI pattern to honor and recognize our 6th Society President and should be used at any and all opportunities.

Exchange Report: Aspen Ruggerfest 2019

(Report submitted by Steven Fenaroli)

Did you know it takes 4 hours to drive from Denver to Aspen? On exchanges, I don’t do a lot of research. I tend to let others guide me and try my best to go with the flow. The drive to Aspen, while long, is absolutely gorgeous. Crossing the continental divide is more mundane than it sounds, but still pretty amazing if you think about the engineering feat that it is.

When we arrived in Aspen Thursday afternoon, there was a men’s match in progress. The pitch is in the middle of town in what might be some of the most expensive undeveloped real estate in the country.

Next to the pitch, there is a playground where children are enjoying themselves every part of the weekend. This playground is part of the rule that a  No F-bomb rule was instituted. If a player cussed in general or at his/her team, it was a yellow card. If they cussed at the ref, it was a red. Players were reminded each game and most took it very well when there was an incident and a player was sent off. Coupled with families who didn’t have to explain adult words to their children, the swearing rule seemed like an overall success.

In aspen, matches are two 20 minutes halves. Some guys like the Open division want to play more. Some players in the over 55’s are ready to be done halfway through the second half.

My frist match was 8am with some over 50’s. I understand that rugby laws have changed over time, but these guys had no desire to roll away after a tackle. To be fair, I’m not sure they knew they had to. This culminated in giving a yellow card to a 75 year old man, and Paul Santinelli (right at home for his age division) harassing me for being heartless. I told him the integrity of the game comes above all.

The night before at dinner, we were told in jest that there would be no changes to the schedule. The next afternoon, I was filling in for a referee who had an injury. That is usually how tournaments go and you don’t get to take off your boots until the end of the day when you know you’re done.

My afternoon was spent refereeing another 50’s match. This time around there were no cards, and the game was moving much faster. Maybe the warmer weather let the guys loosen up? Regardless, the game between the Cardinals and Relics was a fun one to watch and referee.

Later in the day, some 35’s got a game to play. The rugby was much quicker and much more physical. There are all skill levels in Aspen and it is a challenge to see how refereeing transitions between the different age levels and skill ranges. Dark and Stormy Misfits, a ragtag group of players, versus Time made for a sharp match that although the score differential didn’t change much throughout the match, every game is played with Sunday’s final in mind.

Saturday saw the start of the Open division. Open tends to be the most fit division, with players who are at the tournament for exposure and might be in contention for MLR or other contests. Throughout the tournament, there are a handful of former Eagles on the pitch at any one time. Some you know, some are pointed out. It is truly an honor and an experience to be on the pitch with players who have that knowledge and that experience.

Saturday’s first open match between Dark and Stormy Misfits and Boulder was one sided to say the least. Boulder put up a fight, but were no match to the speed and thoughtfulness of Misfits.

Boulder would later play NA Rugby, an academy sponsored by RAN who is working to ready players for the next level. Academy took control and never let go. The game was fast, physical and full of players ready to make their mark on the game.

Sunday morning meant the end of Ruggerfest and the finals. I was assigned the 55s final. The match was going well with two teams who seemed to be playing 10 years younger. As we were playing, my AR radioed in to stop the game for foul play. I turned around and there were two men lying on the ground, one on top of the other, punching eachother to holy hell. I stopped the game and got them separated. Both were asked to leave the pitch and finish their day somewhere else. Paperwork for this type of thing seems silly as these guys probably won’t play rugby for another year. Regardless, I wrote a little love letter summary. We finished the game with 14 players on each side in what was otherwise an uneventful rest of the match.

My game grew throughout the weekend. I was still feeling a WPL game where I didn’t love my control and standards. This weekend gave me 6 opportunities to try different things and work on some much needed areas. I felt my growth over the weekend was tremendous. I have a tough time thinking of any other three day period where I have grown as much and seen as much development. I recommend this exchange

Much and many thanks to Rocky Mountain Refs for hosting the exchange, their President Brian Zapp, Ruggerfest wrangler and planner extraordinaire Gilligan for all of their amazing work that weekend. The coaching cannot go unnoticed and unmentioned. Every game had a coach and the feedback was stellar and helpful towards a successful weekend. Coaches Mike Swank, Brian Zapp, Gilligan, Jim Russell, Mark Huff, and Joe Zevin. I was not coached by everyone, but everyone deserves recognition for the hard work.

Thanks to all the other great refs I was able to meet and friendships forged.

2019 USA Rugby Game Management Guidelines

Looking for guidance on how to manage a game?   Well, USA Rugby has your back.  You can find the 2019 USA Rugby GMGs here:

If you do not have access to the google drive linked above you can also view them as well as other pertinent documents here:

Disciplinary Action Reporting – Process For Reporting Incidents

The various competitions all have their own disciplinary chairs and this will make it difficult to centralize the communication and data.  To help we have developed a form that will centralize the process, regardless of the competition.  The link to the discipline form is

  1. Copy the link and have it available on your smartphone.  If you have an iPhone add the link to your home screen.
  2. When needed fill it out and click submit.  The discipline chair of the competition you refereed will receive a notification about the incident.
  3. He/she may contact you latter for more details.
  4. If you have any questions as to how to use the app please refer to the following video:

On To The Game Reports!

Nothing going on locally until this weekend so all our reports are coming from strange and distant lands.   Keep sending them in!

Date: 08/22/2019
Wanstead 19 – Hackney 14
Referee: Preston Gordon
Location: Centenary Fields, Roding Lane, Woodford Green
Competition: Preseason friendly

This assignment was a bit of a surprise, for two reasons. First, I wasn’t expecting to ref again until the following week, but I got the call on Wednesday at lunch for a Thursday evening game. Second, this was a level 7 assignment with two teams in the London 2 leagues, which is the highest level I’ve done in England. I wasn’t sure what to expect after being moved up to level 8, but it didn’t include doing a level 7 game as my second one of the (pre)season. But duty called, and after a somewhat unpleasant 20-minute tube ride stuffed onto a central line train at rush hour with a large bag, I caught an uber the last two miles and rolled up to Wanstead’s clubhouse.

The pitch here has a mellow slope, but a very interesting one: it’s right on the crest of a hill, such that all four corners of it are lower than a point on the center of one 22m line. In other words, everything is a little bit downhill and a little bit uphill. But it was a warm, 70F and beautiful evening, and after the prematch chats, we kicked off at 1945, just before sunset, for a really good 4 x 20′ game of rugby.

These two sides were matched extremely evenly, and that was reflected on the score sheet. Wanstead got the only try of the first quarter in the 12th minute to lead 7-0. Hackney got the next one 3 minutes into the second quarter to draw even at 7-7, but Wanstead replied with another converted try at 16′ to take a 14-7 lead. This lasted until the 12th minute of the third quarter, when Hackney tied the scores again, at 14-14.

There would be no more scoring until several minutes into stoppage time in the fourth quarter. Wanstead kept the ball in play for many phases, looking for the win, but then turned the ball over. Hackney then did the same, and before long had a penalty advantage coming for a high tackle. They put together another 5-6 phases, and not one second after I called advantage over, lost the ball forward at a tackle, into the arms of a Wanstead back around the halfway line. They proceeded to run in the winning try after some great offloads and supporting interplay. A couple of the Hackney players were waving their arms at me, but I made sure to explain the advantage-gained decision to their captain, who understood. Everybody was happy afterwards, which is the most important thing.

Despite the relatively low scoring, this was a fast, hard-hitting, and clean game with basically zero foul play or any other nonsense. I only had to have an occasional quiet word to let players know I’d seen something, to explain a decision, or to ask someone to modify their behavior. Team skill levels and the pace of the match were noticeably higher/faster than what I saw of level 8 last season, but the gap wasn’t quite as big as what I noticed between levels 9 and 8. Hopefully I’ll get to increase my sample size over the next several months!

Date: 09/14/2019
Northeastern 62 – Rhode Island 3
Referee: Tom Zanarini
Competition: Liberty Conference D1A
Location: Northeastern University, Boston, MA

Northeastern hosted this match at their new Club and Intramural Sports complex on campus. There are two new turf fields and a playground build in conjunction with the City of Boston. Also, in the C&I building is a squash club designed to get inner city youth involved in squash. Pretty cool thing to have. Rugby is played on a shared field with soccer and lacrosse lines. While it is about 10-14 meters short, it is regulation width. The other option was to play on the football lined field that would have regulation length, but less width. The rugby club opted for the former. So, the age old question of length or width being preferred has been answered. 

Saturday started out magnificent. Cool and crisp with blue skies. With the late start I was able to wander around Plymouth, MA where my in-laws reside prior to driving into Boston. Then of course, the clouds came. Then the rain just in time for my hour long drive. But, God loves rugby and decided that since there are no locker rooms, we’ll cut Tom a break. As I parked on Columbus Ave., the rain stopped. Why am I telling you all of this? Because the match was 62-3. Not much to see here other than URI missing tackles and NU running in tries. URI in their defense have only one senior, and no players have seen a rugby ball prior to arriving on campus. NU has a fair amount of foreign players, and Boston players that played some high school club rugby in Massachusetts. I expect URI to get blooded this year and be better for it next year. I’ll personally see to it since they are on my schedule 3 more times this season.

Date: 09/14/2019
Brentwood School 17 – Judd School 55
Referee: Preston Gordon
Location: Brentwood, Essex

I had the chance to ref on these lovely pitches for the second time in two weeks. This U18 match was a friendly against another school that had made the trip up from Kent on a really nice and warm day. Most schools play their league rugby on Wednesdays, so this offered an opportunity for me to work on some technical aspects of my game while getting a decent run.

Judd were the stronger side on the day, scoring the first points two minutes into the game with a penalty shot and then adding six tries and four conversions before Brentwood responded with an unconverted try after time had expired. The halftime score was 5-41 and the visitors had full control of proceedings.

In the second half things were very different, mostly due to the frequent rolling substitutions. Brentwood scored the first try at 19′ before Judd put up another one at 24′ (both converted). Three minutes later Brentwood scored another try (unconverted) to get into double digits. Judd had the last word with their eighth try in the 31st minute, which they converted.

I gave my new neon yellow boots a good breaking-in in this game. For the record: I needed some new boots for hard ground and artificial turf. Most importantly, these ones fit correctly and are very comfortable, and the rugby shop in Bath where I bought them didn’t have any normal colors in my size. That will be my defense at the next kangaroo court, anyway!

Date: 09/18/2019
Latymer Upper School 0 – St. Cecilia’s Church of England School 35
Referee: Preston Gordon
Location: Wood Lane Playing Fields, White City, London

The first thing to mention about this game is that it was played upon what was perhaps the finest pitch I’ve ever seen anywhere. I could hardly believe it was real grass when I first walked onto it while inspecting the pitch – it felt like the latest artificial turf, but the green bits growing through the dirt were real grass, and someone had obviously taken a laser leveler to the entire complex. It was so flat as to be a carpenter’s dream, and I was really lucky to be allowed to put boot divots into it with my boots. I made sure to let the groundskeeper know as well.

Anyway, onto the game, which kicked off at 1430: It seemed like both teams used relatively simple one-pass-and-crash-ball tactics for most of the game. St. Cecelia’s had the stronger side, however, and scored two converted tries in the first half at 12′ and 34′ to be comfortable at halftime while I ran (back) to the loo to alleviate the unpleasant symptoms of something poisonous I had eaten the preceding Sunday. In the second half, the stomach cramps didn’t slow me down too much, and I was on top of the additional three tries that St. Cecilia’s scored (16′, 28′, and 32′). Their kicker added those three conversions. After another well-done to the groundskeeper, and a quick clean-up, I was on the way home just in time to dodge most of the rush hour crowd on the tube.

Date: 09/28/2019
Stowmarket 32 – Wymondham 7
Referee: Preston Gordon
Location: Chilton Fields, Stowmarket, Suffolk
Competition: London 2 North East

This exchange appointment went very well. Thank you to the Eastern Counties assessor for coming out to watch me in my first English level 7 league match. Taking the 2-hour train ride from London to Suffolk and back worked out perfectly. The entire day was really good, in fact, and despite a 20+ mph breeze that never let up, the weather was pretty nice for rugby.

Wymondham’s forwards were significantly larger, and while it took me some time to ensure their dominance in the scrums was safe, Stowmarket nabbed an early converted try and never gave up the lead. They had the wind behind them in the first half and really used that to their advantage, scoring another converted try and two penalties to lead 20-0 at halftime. In the second half Wymondham seemed to run out of gas a bit, and although they did score one try, Stowmarket got two more, including their fourth for the bonus point on the last play of the game. The latter one was the only one that wasn’t converted by either side – attesting to the skills of these kickers.

Results in these leagues usually make the local news (e.g. and Stowmarket were kind enough to share their match video with me too:

Good luck to both of these teams in what looks like a very competitive London 2NE season!

This Week’s Photo

All hail our new President Pelicus Caledonius, shown here being disappointed by a player yet again.

Hail, Pelicus!
For the Senate
Pelicus Pedem Referre

James Hinkin
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