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Henning bows out of Tests

Still to blow Currie Cup and Super 14

Tappe Henning, one of South Africa's first group of full-time referees, has decided to end his Test career when he referees the match between Italy and Fiji in Milan on 26 November. It will be his 21st Test.

His intention is to continue to referee Super 14 and Currie Cup rugby, which means it is not quite curtain-down on a grand and eventful career.

Henning wrote today of his intention to end his Test career to Paddy O'Brien, the IRB's referees manager. In his letter he informed O'Brien of his intention and asked that he not be considered for any of the IRB's panels in future.

Currently Henning is on the IRB's A Panel – one of the top 16 referees in the world. Apart from a brief and unhappy period around the 2003 Rugby World Cup, Henning has been on IRB panels from the very start of such panels in 1997.

He started refereeing at the age of 25 in 1987 while at the Police Dog School in Pretoria. In 1993 he reached South Africa's provincial panels and in 1995 he refereed his first Test – Scotland vs Samoa at Murrayfield.

In fact 1995 was a good year for him. He refereed the Currie Cup final, he was appointed to his first Test, his son was born and South Africa won the World Cup.

In all he has refereed over 200 first class matches, including 87 Currie Cup matches and 51 Super 12 matches.

He is one of the world's most popular referees amongst colleagues. His home in Pretoria has been a place referees have gone to happily and in Australia and New Zealand he is popular – a man with a great sense of humour and a mischievous practical joker, which a stern on-field appearance belies.

In 1999 he was a touch judge at the World Cup hosted by Wales. André Watson, friend and colleague, tells a wonderful story of Henning at that World Cup in his autobiography.

"At the end of the pool rounds, the touch judges went home. Tappe decided to stay on at his own expense, intending to stay to support me. He was there for the quarter-final between Wales and Australia in Cardiff.

"Tappe was walking down from the Jury's Hotel to Millennium Stadium. He had his IRB ticket as we got one ticket per referee for the matches. Just at the gates he started talking to a young boy standing at the queue. 'No, I can't afford a ticket,' the boy said. 'I'm just standing here, looking at the players and the people as they arrive.' Tappe gave him his ticket and went back to the hotel to watch the match on television while a little Welsh boy sat amongst the referees in the VIP seating at Millennium Stadium."

One of the  highlights of his Test career was the Bledisloe Cup match in 2002. It was John Eales's last match and there were 102 000 spectators at the match. He has great regard for Eales, ranking him with André Joubert and Henry Honiball as great gentlemen of rugby.  The second great appointment was the England-France game at Twickenham in 2001, which ended in some disappointment as he had to leave the field with a hamstring injury in the second half to be replaced by Dave McHugh.

He says happily: "I had the best of the North and the best of the South."

The big disappointment was missing out on the 2003 World Cup when, inexplicably, he was withdrawn from the IRB panel. The reason was, apparently, that he was regarded as being soft on foul play as evidenced by his failure to send AJ Venter off for what was supposed to have been a head butt on Robbie Fleck, though Fleck will report that Venter's head did not make contact with him! Despite this injustice Henning is moving on without rancour, in fact happily.

In his letter to O'Brien, Henning wrote that he was retiring from Test refereeing  and added: "I do this after due consideration and am happy to do so as I have had a wonderful career in refereeing and fully intend staying a referee. I shall continue to be available to referee Super 14 rugby and in South African competitions. I should also be happy to assist in any way in refereeing.

"I should like to say how grateful I am to the IRB and everybody else involved in my career for the wonderful opportunities I have been given. I leave Test refereeing happy in what I have achieved and in the experiences I have had with many wonderful people in many wonderful parts of the world.

"I have no regrets about being a referee and this decision that I am now making. I go with a lot of friends and no enemies."

Henning communicates well and has a remarkably good knowledge of the laws of the game. He will be able to play a serious role in the development of referees in South Africa, for as a full-time referee he remains an employee of South African rugby.

William Taljaard Stopforth Henning was born in Nigel on 6 June 1961. The nickname Tappe is a family custom. His grandfather in Naboomspruit was known as Oom Tap, his father as Tappies, his older brother as KleinTappies and he as Tappe.


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