Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Shuhei Kubo to become first Japanese referee in Super Rugby

Referees from Tier 2 nations are rarely seen, but this weekend Shuhei Kubo will become the first Japanese to officiate in Super Rugby. Kubo has also been awarded an international match in June as well.

Over the last 2012-2015 RWC cycle, just 2 out of the 356 test matches between top 20 ranked RWC teams were officiated by a referee from a Tier 2 nation. Those games being some of the very lowest profile, a Tbilisi Cup match between Georgia and Uruguay in 2013 (Vlad Iordachescu of Romania) and a Nations Cup match between Romania and Uruguay in 2014 (Chris Assmus of Canada).

Not just Tier 2 referees, but also those from Argentina, Italy and Scotland only made up just 8 of those games, with the vast majority of matches controlled by officials from just 7 nations (Australia, England, France, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa and Wales).

The selection process is not public, but it is curious as to how just 7 nations refereed 97% of the international matches between RWC sides between 2012-2015. It's is extremely rare to see a referee from outside Tier 1 do even a friendly between sides like Canada and Namibia.

Either none of the referees from the rest of the world are simply not good enough, or there simply isn't the potential pathway to reach international rugby.

Anyway, whilst all that remains, there has notably been one referee from a Tier 2 nation who has been awarded a test this upcoming June in Shuhei Kubo from Japan, who will do Canada vs Russia. Again, a very low profile match, but it's the first international between two top 20 sides outside the June development tournaments a Tier 2 referee has done for years. This week Kubo will also become the first Japanese referee to take charge of a Super Rugby match (Kings vs Bulls).

Refereeing in Japan generally has not often got good reviews, and there is no knowing how well Kubo will fare at the elite level. But it will interesting to see how he does and how far a referee from outside the main 7 refereeing nations can progress.

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