New Zealand Rugby has named 16 match officials for the 2015 ITM Cup, which kicks off on Thursday 13 August, and there’s an exciting blend of talent and experience in the ranks.
The High Performance Referees Squad features three new referees in Jamie Nutbrown, Luke Scanlon and Cameron Stone as well as three international referees: Aki Aso and Shuhei Kubo from Japan, along with Will Houston from Australia who oversaw the World Rugby Under 20 Championship Final, won by New Zealand Under 20 earlier this year. The three new referees have all overseen games in the Pink Batts Heartland Championship.
Thirteen members of the 2014 squad are returning this year, including four referees with Test match experience.
Senior referees Mike Fraser, Glen Jackson and Chris Pollock will all be in action at Rugby World Cup 2015 in the United Kingdom and will miss part of the ITM Cup as a result. High Performance Referees Manager Rod Hill noted that it was great to have three referees who he was confident would perform well at the next level.
“We’ve known that we would be seeing some of our refs called up for World Cup duties and are delighted for Mike, Glen and Chris.
“We’ve been planning for this situation for some time so we can continue to service the ITM Cup at a good level and it’s testament to Vinny Munro and his Talent ID and Talent Development programmes, and to the level of rugby in the Heartland Championship, that we have three new referees ready to make the step up to the ITM Cup,” said Hill.
“It’s particularly pleasing to see Jamie Nutbrown – the inaugural recipient of the New Zealand Rugby High Performance Referee Scholarship in 2014 – earn a place in the Squad and we hope that his success at this level will encourage other current and recently retired players to give refereeing a go in 2016,” he added.
The presence of international referees continues a trend in recent years that has seen a number of overseas officials – including Aso, English whistler Wayne Barnes and Argentine Francisco Pastrana – take part in one of the world’s premier provincial rugby competitions and work with New Zealand Rugby’s High Performance Referees coaching and development team.
The opportunity for two Japanese refs to spend time in New Zealand this year is a positive development for the game matching those available for players, with Japan entering a team in Super Rugby from 2016 onwards and hosting RWC 2019 in four years’ time.
High Performance Referees Squad for ITM Cup 2015:
Nick Briant, Mike Fraser, Glen Jackson, Brett Johnson, Richard Kelly, Mike Lash, Angus Mabey, Kane McBride, Shane McDermott, Jamie Nutbrown, Chris Pollock, Ben O’Keeffe, Brendon Pickerill, Liam Scanlon, Cameron Stone and Paul Williams.