Former Springbok coach Jake White was the first to come right out with it – he wanted players who were big, strong and fast.
White placed an emphasis on size and that rugby has become a game for big men.
Today, international backline players are taller and heavier than the forwards of yesteryear and the packs weigh in at monolithic proportions.
This was certainly evident when the Bulls and the Cheetahs squared up recently in a Super Rugby match. Cheetahs prop Coenie Oosthuizen tipped the scales at 127kg, his opposite number Werner Kruger pushed the needle to 118km and the likes of Bulls lock Juandré Kruger (1.98m) and his Free State opponent Lood de Jager (2.05m) literally reached for the sky.
The captains Pierre Spies (107kg, 1.94m) and Adriaan Strauss (110kg, 1.84m) were, as one would expect, men you could look up to.
And therefore, one would expect you would need a formidable individual to control this mass of potential macho aggro – a square-jawed, broad-shouldered bouncer of a bloke. But not so.
Enter “le petit caporal” (the little corporal), rugby’s incarnation of Napoleon Bonaparte in the shape of referee Jason Jaftha.
He was given the task of puttinga lid on the incendiary mass of manhood – a seemingly impossible task given that he stands at just 1.68m, weighs only 70kg and would thus have had to look some ordered to do his bidding squarely in the, um, navel.
And how well he acquitted himself. Confident, firm, sharp, reminiscent of a young Jonathan Kaplan, Jaftha laid down the law, kept the players on a tight leash, made the right decisions and had a big hand in producing one of the best games of the season.
Jaftha is a product of SA Rugby Union manager of referees Andre Watson’s concerted drive to not only transform South African refereeing but to ensure that local match officials remain among the best in the world.
Others making big strides are the equally diminutive Rasta Rasivhenge, who with Marius van der Westhuizen, leaves soon to officiate at the Sevens World Cup in London, England, and former Sharks Under-20 player Sindile Mayende who will soon be taking the whistle in first-class matches.
“There are other up-and-comers too,” said Watson. “Referees such as Archie Sehlako, Lusanda Jam and the man with the perfect name, Rodney Bonaparte, are showing great promise and can progress to become test referees.”
One of Watson’s lieutenants, Eugene Daniels, has the task of scouting the unions for candidates for the SA Rugby Referees’ academy squad and he is well pleased with the talent being spotted.
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