Craig Joubert: the man for the big arena

We conclude our series on Rugby World Cup final referees with an abridged version of World Rugby TVs interview with Craig Joubert, the man in charge when New Zealand won on home soil in 2011.

There is no bigger stage than a Rugby World Cup final either for a player or a referee.

Only the mentally tough can survive and thrive in the pressure-cooker atmosphere, and having the eyes of the world on him is something South African whistle-blower Craig Joubert relished at RWC 2011, as New Zealand and France battled it out for the Webb Ellis Cup in a nerve-shredding final.

With their forwards on top and all the possession and territory stats in their favour, all the momentum was with France for the majority of the second half yet they were unable to turn that dominance into points.

However, with 15 minutes to go and the game finely balanced at 8-7 to the All Blacks, a collapsed scrum presented Les Bleus with an opportunity to take the lead – and Joubert with an important decision to make.

“The French had a good pack you know and they scrummed well in the final,” Joubert told World Rugby TV. “They put a lot of pressure on the All Blacks scrum, I think it was about 38 metres out, and forced them back and I rewarded them for that dominance with a penalty.

“It was at this moment in the final that I knew that I had the courage to make a defining decision, if it was clear and obvious - and that was a clear and obvious decision - I was very comfortable to make it.”

Sadly for France François Trinh-Duc’s penalty attempt drifted just wide of the posts and 4 million New Zealanders were able to breathe a collective sigh of relief.

Embracing the pressure

The referee, always an easy target, was fingered by some within the Les Bleus camp as being the reason they fell just short.

“Like any other game, I did a self-review of the World Cup final, and I think what is important to know is that I’m not perfect. So of course there were learnings, of course there were things that I would do differently," he said.

“But at the same time the real lesson I’ll take out of that game was the realisation that, when you’re in a big final and there’s one point in it for the last half an hour to go, an enormous amount of scrutiny comes on every decision and every non-decision.

"One could fear the scrutiny or one could so want to be in that environment that you embrace it and accept it for what it is. I love being in the arena, I love the big occasion, I love the pressure that comes with that and I accept that scrutiny. I wouldn’t give it up for the world.”

Speaking about his selection for the final, Joubert added: It’s an enormous responsibility, but an enormous privilege. Something you never take for granted or never assume you’ll ever be in line for, so you know for someone who’d grown up dreaming about that moment, it was really special.”