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Rising Australian referee Matt O’Brien has been elevated to the referee squad for the 2014 Super Rugby season.
After showcasing his qualities throughout the HSBC Sevens World Series circuit over the last couple of years, O’Brien has joined Marius van der Westhuizen of South Africa as one of two new faces in 2014. Both refs have also performed above expectations within the ITM Cup (O’Brien) and Currie Cup (van der Westhuizen.)
O’Brien brings Australia’s tally of Super Rugby refs next season to an impressive six, alongside Angus Gardner, Rohan Hoffmann, James Leckie, Andrew Lees and Steve Walsh.
Only South Africa matches that figure with New Zealand having five referees and Argentina one.
In welcoming the duo to Super Rugby, SANZAR Game Manager Lyndon Bray said, "Each of these men present the strongest potential profiles for refereeing at the top level.
"Both are so excited to be given the opportunity and we are adamant that we need to recruit these young guys and start developing them into top Super Rugby referees earlier rather than later."
The two departing refs are veteran Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa) and Jonathon White (New Zealand) who leave the squad through retirement and a new career opportunity respectively.
“Jonathan Kaplan’s experience is second to none throughout a distinguished career at Test, Super Rugby and Currie Cup levels,” Bray said.
“He has accomplished more than any other referee in the history of Super Rugby, including being the first whistle-blower to officiate 100 games in our competition.
“Jonathon White has had an excellent refereeing career in New Zealand and has represented our team with distinction in recent years. SANZAR wishes Jonathon all the best as he moves to New York to pursue a new opportunity in the medical field.”
While 16 referees are able to celebrate re-selection in the Super Rugby Referee Squad, Bray emphasised that the pressure is on in the short term to realise excellence in performance.
"The squad is under no illusion that the honeymoon around developing our 'best team' is over.”
“We need to see real improvement in performance throughout 2014 and we are challenging our squad to ‘own excellence in refereeing’ as a theme for the coming season," Bray explained.
“There is going to be a strong accent on what it takes to perform at a Super Rugby level. This includes each referee’s ability to create the right outcomes around the tackle ball and contest, the set piece (especially the scrum), space on the field and ensuring a good equitable balance to the contest.”
The squad will assemble for a camp in Sydney during January to build upon the framework that enables the referees to make the game easy to play for the players and easy to watch for the fans.
"We have done a lot of work around ‘what does the best game of Super Rugby look like?’ during review workshops across our three Super Rugby territories which will allow us to further refine and develop our best performance model for refereeing in this wonderful competition," Bray concluded.
The workshops were held in the three countries and confirmed the major outcome for the 2014 competition would hinge upon greater consistency in application, especially around the tackle ball.
The full Super Rugby Referee Squad for 2014 is:
Stuart Berry (RSA)
Nick Briant (NZL)
Mike Fraser (NZL)
Angus Gardner (AUS)
Rohan Hoffmann (AUS)
Glen Jackson (NZL)
Jason Jaftha (RSA)
Craig Joubert (RSA)
James Leckie (AUS)
Andrew Lees (AUS)
Matt O’Brien (AUS)
Francisco Pastrana (ARG)
Jaco Peyper (RSA)
Chris Pollock (NZL)
Lourens van der Merwe (RSA)
Marius van der Westhuizen (RSA)
Steve Walsh (AUS)
Garratt Williamson (NZL)