While the All Blacks finish the year as the world champions, the ranks of the refereeing fraternity also boast something of a ‘winner’ with South African official Craig Joubert overseeing the 8-7 win over France.
According to the allblacks.com website, Joubert effectively finished the season ranked as the best referee in world rugby, given the honour of overseeing the Rugby World Cup final, his third major competition decider – having overseen the Super Rugby final against Bulls and Stormers at Orlando Stadium and last season’s Currie Cup final between the Sharks and Western Province in Durban.
The 34-year-old said that like rugby teams, referees carefully prepared themselves in between World Cups.
“The Rugby World Cup final was without doubt the highlight of my career,” he said.
“Like the players we (referees) use the four-year cycle to prepare for a World Cup.
“For me it was a big goal to referee at the World Cup, so it was a huge moment when I was selected as one of the 10 referees to go to the event. And to referee a quarter-final, semi-final and final in the biggest tournament in world rugby was the cherry on the top.”
While Joubert is no stranger to overseeing matches involving the All Blacks in their own backyard, he said the final was something of a surreal experience.
“I’ve done a number of big matches in New Zealand, including New Zealand versus Australia clashes and I refereed France in New Zealand,” he said.
“But on the day of the World Cup final I realised that the match was way bigger than anything I had experienced before. The whole country came to a standstill. The streets were lined with supporters all the way to the stadium, so it was a level above anything I had experienced.”
The French response to the haka was quite a start said Joubert.
“I thought the French reaction to the haka was a massive statement of intent by them that they were really fired up for the game, and I knew then it would be some Test match,” said Joubert.
He said forefront on his mind was that he didn’t want to ruin the match with an incorrect, or more to the point, no decision at all.
“Then you get to the last half hour and there is one point in the match with the score at 8-7, and I knew that every decision I made and non-decision I made would influence the outcome of the World Cup,” he said.
“At that point what becomes important is to referee the clear and obvious. So for the last 30 minutes I said to myself, if something obvious happens I need to have the courage to make the decision, but I am not going to look at the marginal decisions that would influence the outcome of the game.”