Jaco Peyper: The man behind the whistle
Jaco Peyepr was born on 13 June 1980 in Bloemfontein. At the age of just 26 he made his debut as Currie Cup referee at 28 he officiated his first Super Rugby match and at the age of 32 he made his test debut. He has 45 Currie Cup matches behind his name, 34 Super Rugby matches and 14 tests. Dublin in Nov 2012 was his 100th first class game according to the statisticians.
Here is the interview I did with Jaco:
Dave: In what position did you play rugby and till what age did you play?
Jaco: Played most of my rugby at scrum-half my family is littered with no 9s due to the shape and sizes dominated by our genetics! Played rugby till my 2nd year at University.
Dave: Did you ever dream of becoming a Springbok rugby player?
Jaco: Certainly! Springbok Rugby wasn’t a regular occurrence when I grew up which probably made it even more special – I remember watching my first live “Springbok Test” at 5 years old Springboks vs New Zealand Cavaliers in 1986… and then had to wait till 1992 to see a full blown test match of the Boks again. Never good enough to play for them though, but always passionate about the game. You can ask me for any Currie Cup final or team since 1986 – I still have the VHS.
Dave: When did you decide to become a referee?
Jaco: Had some bad luck with rather serious injuries as a youngster and by age of 20 I had been operated on 7 times to fix the broken body. The obvious next step to stay involved in rugby was coaching and or refereeing. I started coaching a Primary Schools team in my free time as a student– and we had to referee some of the school games. Kind off snowballed from here.
Dave: When did you officiate your first senior provincial level game and who played?
Jaco: 2007 Griekwas v Luiperds. Done over 120 1st class games as a ref since.
Dave: Can you still remember your first international game?
Jaco: Sure, amazing occasion– earned my SA Rugby Test blazer that day, will never forget it. Kenya v Uganda in Nairobi. My first Tier 1 v Tier 1 International game was Australia v Scotland in Newcastle – even more memorable day. 2 hours before the game they were going to call it off due to weather (blizzards). We did play in the end; the whole game was played in 1 half of the field’ down wind’ as the team defending that half couldn’t manage to gain any meters in a kicking game. Freezing cold- 2 players were treated for hypothermia post match!
(Scotland won 9-6)
Dave: It must be hard on the family travelling so much during the rugby season. How do you handle it?
Jaco: Yes it is hard, even though travelling the world is such a great privilege and opportunity, you can’t get around this discomfort factor leaving your precious little baby, lovely wife and all your projects and interests back home for long periods. My little girl is just over 5 months old now of which I was away from home almost 3 months- I think it is tougher on me these days than on the family. Essentially you can only make it work with quality time spent with the people that matter when you are at home and making those occasions count. I have a special life partner who was a competitive sportswoman herself and understands the demands and supports me through the better or worse… she gives me a bit of lip when I didn’t meet her expectations in a match though!
Dave: What do you do in preparation for a game?
Jaco: We owe it to the game and are prepared as well as we can be, so we do cover the entire basis as far as possible. We analyse team patterns and styles to get a feel of what might be presented on match day, train physically relevant to what the game demands and also probably the most important get in best frame of mind to contribute to the great game.
Dave: Do you have any funny rituals or superstitions that you go through before a game? I know many players do have these.
Jaco: Yeah a lot of refs (and players) have these hey… I am not too peculiar; I only purposefully sit in the back of the car/ mini – van on the way to the field.
Dave: Who is the captain/player you have the most admiration for on and off the field?
Jaco: I will give you some thoughts and then you make a call on players you follow… any Captain / Player who understands and have empathy for our role and the pressures involved, wins a yard immediately in respect and return of empathy. The ones who know when to enter the frame and relevantly put pressure on only when they have a fair point, wins even more. To be fair in general the players treat us fairly and with due respect in most competitions, and in SA Rugby most senior players are exceptionally good to deal with.
Dave: Which captain/player would you rather not want in a game you officiate?
Jaco: Referring to the question above, in contrast I would say the player(s) that would think being captain / senior player affords them the right to question any/ every decision that doesn’t go their way, disregarding merits. Anyway there are not too many of them and we have good professionals generally in the game.
Dave: What is the funniest thing that has ever happened to you on the field of play or while you officiated a game?
Jaco: Numerous funny moments happen on the field, good one recently was in Currie Cup last year where a player lost a contact lens on the field, and when I jogged over to see if he was ok, he said to his Doc with a grin as he knew I could hear him “do you have a set for Peyps, he seems to miss everything the opposition does!” We have lots of good times on the field.
Dave: We all know that referees do make mistakes. You guys are after all just human. How does the critique by the press, commentators, players and coaches effect you?
Jaco: Obviously you’d love to make them when they have the least impact on a game result, but sometimes we honestly make the human error that is critical in a game and it is very disappointing – as much to ourselves as any avid supporter, commentator or team . When a commentator or analyst fairly criticises me – I do not blink and take it on the chin; no way around it, swallow it and get on with it. It is a lot tougher though when they do not know or interpret the law incorrectly and dish out unfair criticism, which obviously fires up public opinion and leads criticism in social media based on misinformation… hard if the likes of your mom and wife have to read these ugly things.
Interestingly enough from my own perspective, it’s not about how many mistakes we make, but how influential the mistakes that causes issues. Sometimes you get 396 out of 400 decisions right in a game, but 1 of those 4 changes the result… and you’re in for big drama. In other games I have made more than double that number of mistakes, none of them game changing and they disappear in the mist somehow…
Dave: You started officiating provincial Currie Cup games at the age of 28. Did you find it difficult to get the players to respect you? I take it some of them were older than you.
Jaco: Obviously they seem to be challenging you at first because you are younger, but I guess there is only 1 way to win them over and that is by doing a good job in the middle. It takes time to win teams and players’ confidence, no matter how old you are, but a solid first 20min in a game goes a long way.
Dave: How many rules are there actually in rugby? I have it tallied at about 390 taking all the laws, sub-laws and different rules for each sub-law.
Jaco: Yeah it’s over 400, and even some clarification regulations passed not taken into account with that. I guess rugby could be very complicated, but teams and referees emphasise having a “good shape” around the five Key Areas as promoted by IRB and letting the rest be very obvious are having good success currently.
Dave: Which ground is your favourite to go and officiate a game at and why?
Jaco: Many favourite grounds- each for a different reason- All SA stadiums are quite unique with their different cultures and atmospheres, but I’d have to say the 6 Nations stadiums and their anthems are very special too.
Dave: Which game will you never forget?
Jaco: There are quite a few. The SA Rugby derbies in Vodacom Super Rugby and Absa Currie Cup are really intense and some really special Test matches springs to mind. However the Currie Cup Final of last year is probably my fondest memory in rugby to date.
Dave: And which one would you rather forget for the rest of your life?
Jaco: Every game that I had an influence on the result, at any level. I would like to forget the game, but savour the lesson learnt from it.
Dave: Are there any secrets you can share with us relating your fellow South African referees?
Jaco: We are a hard working panel with the best training and mentors available in the world. SARU keeps producing referees of international calibre due to SARU’s quality mentors and competitions such as Coca-Cola Craven Week and Varsity Cup as a breeding ground through to Vodacom Super Rugby for international level. You have to perform or the next ref in line is ready to step up to do so. On a social front I can also share that referees are people who naturally have talent for having fun when the bets are off too… just to keep a good balance.
Dave: Outside of rugby what is your profession?
Jaco: I am a consultant at Peyper Sesele Inc. Law firm. (Family Law firm, Head office in Bloemfontein) I am qualified in law and accounting and contribute to the business from a commercial perspective.
Dave: Tell us a bit more about Jaco Peyper the man and not the referee.
Jaco: Hey it’s pretty simple in my view, when I am at my best as a person – what you see is what you get. I am in LOVE with rugby, and that’s the main drive being involved in this wonderful game. I also have great interest in things outside rugger, that will hopefully keep me balanced as person. Gardening or an open boma fire (bush TV) can almost get me as happy as a good rugby match!
So boys and gals there you have it straight from the referee’s mouth. They are people like us that make mistakes. They try and learn from them and take it as it comes. Before you critique a referee for his mistakes again, remember he has to remember 400+ rules and apply them at real time. Commentators make mistakes as well and they are never taken to task. Yet we believe what they say because they are the “experts”.
I would like to thank Jaco, Andre Watson and Andy Colquhoun who made this interview possible. Specially Jaco. He never once hesitated to do the interview and facilitated in getting the approval. I felt like I was doing him a favour instead of the other way round. Jaco is a really humble person that sees refereeing as his way of giving back to the game that gives him so much joy.