The main man
Rowly Williams,
October 21, 2011
New Zealand's Sonny Bill Williams is shown a yellow card, New Zealand v Australia, Rugby World Cup semi-final, Eden Park, Auckland, New Zealand, October 16, 2011
Craig Joubert shows Sonny Bill Williams a yellow card during the Rugby World Cup semi-final © Getty Images

So, it all comes down to this. One finalist unbeaten, sweeping aside all before them (much as expected), and the other taking what might kindly be described as a less straightforward route.

In the middle is a referee who possesses a full house. He's been present for four Pool matches, the quarter and semi-finals and of course the big one - New Zealand against France in the Rugby World Cup Final.

Craig Joubert has had an excellent tournament. The referee selection panel, led by elite referee manager Paddy O'Brien, were unanimous in their assessment that the South African should get the final based on his performances throughout the tournament. So what he did do to make himself the outstanding candidate?

Moving out of the Pool matches, Joubert was the leading whistle-blower. He awarded 92 penalties, but this should not be seen as the mark a referee who had little or no 'feel' for the matches. Graham Henry, the All Blacks coach, admitted that, "Players enjoy playing when Joubert referees".

Regardless of the coach's pre-match psychological 'first strike', Henry voiced what many were thinking, that Joubert has had a good tournament and that he shows a natural ability to command respect while having a pretty good rapport with teams.

He was also deemed to have refereed the five areas of concern - highlighted by O'Brien - well. Strong at the scrum, with a total of 28 penalties and averaging a little under five per match, he has shown a balance between first up penalties and re-setting.

His 64 penalties at the tackle/breakdown area have been consistent, with an average of about 11 per match, and to prove the point, he has awarded exactly the same percentage of penalties to tacklers and tackled players in this difficult area (30% to each). By design, or match circumstances, he has shown an 'even handed' manner, giving neither attack or defence too much cause for complaint.

Across the pitch area, tryline to tryline, he has also shown a consistent delivery of penalties to manage the matches, varying by only one or two. It is only in the opposition 22 that an attacking team receives significantly less than the defence, (29 defence 16 attack), but that has been the trend for all 10 tournament referees.

Joubert has this week gone public with his call that he will be "firm early on". In fact, 29% of his 126 penalties awarded in the tournament so far have been given in the opening quarter. As the match settles down he relies on player compliance to help the remaining 60 minutes flow.

His second-half trend - between 40 and 70 minutes - has been single figure percentages (9%, 8%, 8%). However, following another trend of the tournament, he will make the tough calls when required and spikes in the last 10 minutes, awarding 23% of all his penalties during this period. This again supports his belief that, "Players will play to the latitude referees give them".

So there we have it. At only 33, Craig Joubert has packed in a huge amount of refereeing experience since he started at 16 and has clearly justified his fast track progress through the International ranks. Whether he thought, coming into the tournament as one of the top ten referees, he would emerge as number one, who knows? But the loss of the world champions at the quarter final stage has opened up an opportunity that I have no doubt he will seize with both hands…and a whistle.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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