Referee Van der Westhuizen
In just three weeks Marius van der Westhuizen will have refereed two finals – the Final of the Hong Kong Sevens and then the Final of the Varsity Cup.
And who knows what will happen in between when he is at the Tokyo Sevens?
Who is he, suddenly achieving all of this? After all his Sevens experience as a referee before Hong Kong was confined to Wellington and Las Vegas. Hong Kong was just his third tournament in the IRB Series.
Marius van der Westhuizen was born in Cape Town on 6 January 1984. He went to school at President High School in Cape Town and then studied through UNISA. He played flyhalf and inside centre at school but then stopped playing. It was his job that brought him into contact with refereeing and the wider rugby world. From gathering statistics of matches for SARU he graduated to Soundsure which provides detailed information of matches for countries, franchises and provinces and also provides detailed information for and on referees. He is now a service delivery manager at Soundsure. Part of that service delivery is providing the weekly clips for the SA Referees' website.
In 2007 he joined the Western Province Referees' Society. "While doing analysis with SA Referees department, I needed something to get me fit again and thought refereeing couldn't be asdifficult as some people made it look. It was!
"In doing the analysis I had a huge advantage as I analysed all the top referees as part of my daily job." This included attendance at several IRB Sevens Series to do analysis for the referees and those who watch over them.
He has put in the years at refereeing and, naturally, he has had help along the way, as the modern referee certainly has. Asked who had helped, Van der Westhuizen said: "Along the way there are too many to name. Everybody at the Western Province referees' Society., the place where it all started. Right at the beginning, there were Ben Theron and Dennis Immelman.
"At SA rugby, the big boss André Watson and his right and left hands, Tappe Henning and Mark Lawrence. Mark has also been my coach for the last two years. And there is my peer coach for the last two years Craig Joubert. The person who does not make a success with all those people on his side will probably never make it. My peer group Francois Pretorius, Rasta Rasivhenge and Ben Crouse are always there to give me a honest opinion and that is all a referee can ask for. At the IRB Paddy O'Brien and Scott Young have taught me so much in such a short space of time. I will forever be grateful to them."
Asked what part Sevens had played in his refereeing, Van der Westhuizen said: "Sevens is an unbelievable opportunity for you to learn more about yourself as a referee as well as a person, to see how you respond being put under tremendous pressure by player coaches and big crowds. You want to work hard in order to test yourself against some of the best athletes in the game. There is no time for you to be off your game, as every mistake you make has a huge influence on the game and there is no time to correct it. It is truly a pressure cooker environment, a place where you to think on your feet and adapt or you will be left behind."
And there have been highlights which suggest that Van der Westhuizen is indeed making a success of refereeing – the Koshuis Rugby Final at Stellenbosch and Craven Week's final match in 2010 , the Varsity Cup semifinal in 2012 and this year the Hong Kong Sevens Final and the appointment to the Varsity Cup Final. It is no wonder that Watson says he is a 'special talent'.
The most recent highlight was the Hong Kong Final, of which Van der Westhuizen says: "It was the best atmosphere that I have ever refereed in, 44000 passionate supporters creating an electric buzz in the stadium. Either team could have won it right up to the end. I found myself laughing during the game as I could never have imagined it would be such an awesome experience. There were seven unbelievable tries in the final, as both teams just wanted to play Sevens rugby.
"The best thing about the final was the unbelievable support I got from the entire team of nine other referees at the tournament. Pretty much any of them could have done the Final. I was just the lucky one on the day. Truly an evening I would remember as long as I live!
"A big shout out must go out to the local Hong Kong Referees' Society as well – one of the best team of assistant referees we have had on the entire series thus far.
"I am truly a blessed man and it is all because of rugby refereeing."