Cape Town - In an exclusive interview, GLEN JACKSON talks about handling the pressures of refereeing at the highest level, his disappointment at missing out on the World Cup cut and braaing for Shane Warne.
Sport24 asked: How have you found the transition from playing to refereeing?
Glen Jackson: I feel privileged that I have been refereeing for nine years now and it has been an enjoyable time in the middle. Even when I was still playing for the Chiefs in Super Rugby, refereeing was something I always thought about because I liked the idea of staying involved in rugby. As a referee you have to be very self-reliant, but you are still part of this wonderful game. It was a good move for me and something I have really enjoyed. Even though some of the readers might think that referees are bad men and women, we are in it because we love the game and try to service the sport. In order to deal with the pressures you have got to understand if and when you are wrong. It makes a big difference if you understand you have made a bad call and then you can accept it as people having their feelings. However, if you aren’t mentally strong I don’t think you can do this job because refereeing is very difficult at times. Overall, the positives definitely outweigh the negatives for me. I probably wouldn’t say that I’m my own toughest critic because I think there are some fans out there who are tougher than me in terms of critiquing my performance, but I know when I make a call that’s not right. Having played the game helps because I know how much time and work players and coaches put into the week, and one refereeing call can ruin their weekend. I never want to make a bad call, however, when I do I’m self-critical in terms of not only letting myself down, but the game and the players as well… Being the first man to play and referee 100 first-class matches makes me feel old. However, I am more proud of the achievements I have done refereeing than playing. When you are playing you have your 14 mates with you and they can help you along, whereas if you make a lot of mistakes in the refereeing game your career will be pretty short-lived.
Sport24 asked: What does your preparation as a professional referee entail?
Glen Jackson: We try to do as much video analysis as we can, but realistically you can’t predict what teams are going to do. A lot of it is about understanding what happens in the here and now. It comes down to how you are going to cope with it, which doesn’t always make it that easy. In terms of triggers, at scrum and line-out time I look at whose ball it is and who is dominant early doors. You become aware who wants to scrum longer, who wants to compete in the line-out and which of the teams are going off the top versus driving. The breakdown is probably the toughest area to get your head around as a referee and most will look at who was dominant in the tackle and who won the collision. Rugby is all about winning collisions. For us it’s about understanding who won it and who is under pressure to do something that they probably shouldn’t at the breakdown. The more knowledge we have in rugby in terms of what teams are trying to do, the better it is for a referee. You would be crazy if you think you have mastered this game as a referee because every time something comes up that you are not used to. As referees, we do a lot of ‘what ifs’, but you run out of those all the time. It’s about being flexible around your thinking and understanding yourself. From a physical standpoint, I’m fitter now than I was as a player, but that is purely running fit. We don’t have to do much heavy lifting because we aren’t smacked around the field like the big guys are now.
Sport24 asked: Has refereeing become too much for one man to handle?
Glen Jackson: What SANZAAR has done really well this year, and which they deserve credit for, is that we are now working in pods. They try to get three officials involved and we work together for the whole year. It doesn’t mean we are always together on the field, but when you have worked together you understand what you want. I don’t know if two on-field referees is really the future of the game. I think the future is rather in working with the pod system that SANZAAR has put in place. You feel more comfortable when you have worked together all week with the guys on the side-line and understand what you are doing. It’s not just about a guy on the side of the field holding a flag, but actually about helping you with a lot more than the spectators know… Egon Seconds is a fantastic story as well. He went on to referee the Junior World Championship final last year, which was a terrific achievement for him. He has certainly done a great job and Nic Berry is another former player turned referee. There is probably more of a future now that rugby players can see in refereeing. Refereeing is not for everyone, for sure, but it’s not as bad as some may think. The more former players we can get refereeing the game, hopefully the better the performances can become.
Sport24 asked: How did you enjoy officiating at the 2015 World Cup?
Glen Jackson: I probably didn’t expect to go to the World Cup as a referee so soon after finishing my playing career, but I really enjoyed it and thought I refereed well. To go and experience what the World Cup means was great. I had hoped to be heading to the World Cup in Japan later this year, but I already know that I won’t be. (Jackson, who was named New Zealand’s Referee of the Year in 2018, has been snubbed with his countrymen Ben O’Keefe and Paul Williams set to be named for the tournament). It’s a tough one for me, but we have got a couple of Kiwis going and I hope they do well. When it comes to selection, they (World Rugby) decide who they want there. My goals have changed a bit after missing out. It was refereeing at the World Cup, but now I would love to do another year of Super Rugby. The aim is to carry on for one more year and then possibly get into coaching whether it be of the referees or in a rugby team. Even though we have had a few issues with the format of Super Rugby and how it’s run, I still think it’s fantastic rugby and I love being part of it. Players are always looking for the next best thing and as a SANZAAR community we are the first to come up with new ideas in terms of the way the game is played, which shows itself at Test level.
Sport24 asked: How would you assess the state of South African rugby?
Glen Jackson: The Springboks are a fantastic team and are really well-coached. In terms of South Africa, I think everyone knows they are going to be there or thereabouts in the World Cup. They are going through a fair bit of changeover, with a lot of what New Zealand is experiencing as well, in terms of losing a number of players to overseas. Money up north is much more than in New Zealand and South Africa. We are forever going to be losing players and South Africa even more so than New Zealand, which makes their depth that much more difficult to find. However, I have watched a fair bit of schoolboy rugby and Varsity Cup and South Africa boasts some amazing depth and talent. Even though they are losing players, they have still got a lot of talent coming through. That is a credit to what rugby means to South Africa. New Zealand is going through the same issues as far as where rugby is in terms of people’s hopes and dreams. My wish is that rugby continues to be as strong as it is... In terms of the All Black-Springbok rivalry, I don’t think South Africa ever lost New Zealand’s respect. In 2017, the results weren’t there for the Boks (they were humbled 57-0 in Albany) but in terms of New Zealand playing South Africa, it is still the toughest Test going around at the moment.
Sport24 asked: What is your assessment of the evolution of flyhalf play?
Glen Jackson: The big difference in the modern game is clearly the defensive line-speed. When I played, it was with a slide defence and you virtually moved forward to make a tackle and now players are sprinting forward. As an attacking or kicking N0 10, the time you have got to make a decision is so much shorter in the modern professional game. It clearly makes your 10 even more important in terms of what they are thinking, how they play and what pressure they are going to be under in terms of the defensive team. Playing at flyhalf is certainly a tougher gig. In terms of the best in the game today, Beauden Barrett is an extremely amazing talent whether he plays at 10 or 15. He has been there or thereabouts for many years. Handré Pollard, for me, is a class act and has been ever since his school days. In the future, he could be one of the best 10s in the world because he has everything going right for him in terms of his size, kicking game, control and temperament. I don’t believe there is any major difference in quality among Jonathan Sexton, Owen Farrell, Barrett and Pollard, but would suggest that whoever plays the best at 10 is probably going to win the World Cup.
Sport24 asked: Three dream dinner guests, who would they be and why?
Glen Jackson: I’m a massive cricket fan and would invite Shane Warne. Growing up, I thought Warne changed the game of cricket. His ability on the field was second to none. He is now a great commentator and gives plenty of insight around what he is doing. In terms of entertainment, I’m a big fan of Eddie Murphy. I would like him to be at the dinner party because he seems like one hell of a funny lad. If Warnie talks too much, Eddie could spice things up and hit us with some comedy gold. And in terms of music, Dave Groll would definitely make the guest list. He has been in many good bands and I love the Foo Fighters. He is probably the Shane Warne of music because not matter what he does it seems to go well. It would be pretty cool to have him play in the corner while we talk... Since coming to South Africa almost every year from 1999, I know how to braai properly with wood on an open fire. I would braai Scotch fillet steak with chips and egg and I would also bring some South African calamari to cook back in my home town of Tauranga because you can’t beat it.