Super fit for the super series?

It is 4.30pm on a very cold Sunday afternoon at the Rugby Football Union of East Africa grounds. In fact, it has been raining and has only just subsided to a bearable drizzle. The referees begin to trickle, in wrapped up warm, teeth chattering. Everyone is pensive; probably because they have not had a fitness test since June 2009 just before the Safari Sevens.

As the game of rugby makes positive leaps and bounds, the referees are determined not to be left behind, especially on the pitch. Today, several of Kenya’s top referees have come for the bleep test organised as part of the process to vet the referees who will finally be called upon to officiate in the upcoming Bamburi Rugby Super Series 2010.

Referee Development Officer and seniour referee, Sammy “Karis” Kariuki, is here, as is the Bamburi Rugby Super Series Tournament Director, Herbert Mwachiro. Mini-rugby training has just ended and now the children settle at the stands to watch the referees take the pitch, so to speak. A total of 13 referees are taking part in the bleep test today; among them, arguably the top female referee in the country, Sarah Otieno. A good number of the referees seem to have been kept away by the rains.

Karis boasts of having gotten to level twelve once. Godwin begins to doubt this story because the last time Karis told it, he talked about level twelve and a half. Victor Muniafu has found a strategic spot from which to watch events unfold. Today he strictly here to give the guys morale support and looks quite shocked at a suggestion that he should take part in the bleep test. The official record holders seem to be Karani, Cap and John Bosco, tied at level twelve although John Bosco claims to have gotten to level thirteen once and is hard pressed to prove it.

Osborne Bulemi, another seniour referee, arrives, amidst a cloud of smoke, like a genie from a bottle. While Karis attempts the bleep test with his juniours, Osborne opts to light up again. But not before he blows the whistle to sermon the participants to the pitch to begin the test.
After a short briefing on the general rules of a bleep test, the process is soon under way and it seems as if no man, or woman, will be left behind. Everyone is neck to neck. “Karis” fights a brave fight before just falling short of level six. He moves to the sidelines and begins to egg the rest of the team on. One by one they reach their limit and by level nine, only six referees are left.

Streaks of sweat are now visible, even in this deplorable weather, and strain is written all over their faces. The crowd is cheering them on and clapping them out. John Bosco, Cap and Karani make the final three. John Bosco falls just short of his (official) personal best leaving Cap and Karani to battle it out. Karani is scheduled join other match officials at the Junior World Rugby Trophy 2010 in Russia later this year. Fitness definitely contributes to his high level performance as a referee. But today, it is Constant Cap who draws the curtains on the bleep test at level 12.8.

Osborne and “Karis” are happy with the performance today and are looking forward to assessing another batch of referees expected to take the bleep test next weekend. They are positive that the referees are making great progress and that with continuous assessment on application of laws, control of the game, communication and fitness, they will be more than ready come the Bamburi Rugby Super Series 2010 in April.

Similar criteria for qualification of tournament referees are expected to be used in Uganda and Tanzania. “We are also looking for qualified referees from Uganda and Tanzania. We want Ugandan and Tanzanian referees to officiate matches between Kenyan teams. Where Uganda plays Kenya, a Tanzanian referee will officiate the match while a Kenyan referee will officiate any matches between Uganda and Tanzania. This will serve to raise the profile of the tournament”, said Osborne.