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'I have my philosophies': Referee Ben O'Keeffe reveals how he previews games

By Ned Lester
(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

International referee Ben O’Keeffe made a guest appearance on the Aotearoa Rugby Pod this week to tackle some of the big talking points around refereeing decisions and their impact on the game.

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Panelist and ex-Blues Hooker James Parsons talked about his days as captain of North harbour and how he and the teams’ analyst would prepare for the specific referee they had for their next game, looking at “where does he penalise, what is he penalised for, ok he’s really high around defensive penalties”.

He asked O’Keeffe if he also analyses his own penalty statistics.

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“Yeah we do,” O’Keeffe replied. “And we certainly know that teams do that.

“In the Rugby Championship we sat down with the International coaches and one of the first things they say is that ‘we profiled you, we know you’ and then they just leave it like that so you’re sitting there like ‘woah, what do they know about me?

“But we know, there’s obviously all the stats out there like I sort of know my style of refereeing, I have my philosophies around how I referee the tackle, the breakdown, I know what my 50/50 calls are for example and that might be slightly different to other referees.

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“With all the stats that are available now, it’s really good, every three to four months I look at those stats just to see where am I trending, am I missing a lot of side entries at the breakdown, is that something I need to clean up on and what is my go to decision when there is a jackler on the ball, is it holding on or is it not supporting body-weight.”

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As for O’Keeffe previewing the teams, Parsons was interested to know how much detail O’Keeffe went into around their penalty trends.

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“When I preview a team – and I think most referees do this – a lot of it is based around what does the team do that is common to their style? They play with a lot of speed, they like to send the ball wide, do they line out to maul a lot.

“It’s all related to what’s going to surprise me in this game, because as soon as referees are surprised, that’s when they start making mistakes.

“For example, for Otago, I know they do a lot of moves around the back of their line-out using that space and it can get pretty complicated at the back of a line-out, so I know that, which means that I have to get quickly around that last pillar at the line-out or actually stand at the front of the line-out.

“So, a lot of it’s actually around not being surprised, but positionally, where can I be to be able to make the right call.

“I think gone are the days where we look at what this loose-head does, what this tight-head does because that was last week, that was against another front row.

“It’s more about the style of the game and how can I get in better positions to make accurate calls.”

This answer impressed Parsons as it showed the referee doesn’t enter the game with a “fixed mindset”.

“It just shows how much work goes into it.” Parsons said.

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