Questionnaire: Tony Spreadbury - Rugby World Cup referee

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The Independent Online

How do you prepare before a game?

I have a fairly set routine for all games. I like to get there about two hours before kick- off. I like to get the toss and all the legal stuff out of the way as soon as possible. By law I have to check everyone's studs and body armour. I am also obliged to brief the front rows about how I am going to handle the scrums, especially the procedure for engagement. I get wired up with the mike and earphone, make sure they work, have a 20-minute warm-up and, finally, allow myself half an hour of peace and quiet.

Does the International Rugby Board issue fitness guidelines?

You have to meet stringent targets to be considered for internationals. We are tested yearly and before every big tournament. I'm lucky enough to use a personal trainer who works with me for up to 20 hours a week. He is employed by the RFU to work out an individual programme including gym, track, endurance and swimming. He has his work cut out because I am not really a whippet; more like a labrador.

Do you get plenty of lip from the players?

I think it's okay for players to ask questions of referees as long as it is done in a civilised manner. That's the difference between rugby and football refereeing. We are lucky to still have the communication. There seems to be more communication with the players in rugby than in most sports. We banter with the guys, and providing they are civil to me, I will give as good as I get.

Has increased technology improved the referee's lot?

I've got mixed feelings. The ref's mike is really a TV gimmick, making watching rugby more interesting. The downside for me is that it highlights the fact that I talk too much. In the northern hemisphere, we use video referees only at Test level and only for in-goal decisions. As long as we keep it nice and simple, and to set protocols, it is a useful tool.

Has professionalism in rugby made your life more difficult?

If you look at teams playing internationals now and those of 10 years ago, there is no comparison. Players' fitness levels have gone up and their knowledge of the law has improved, but they do now see how far they can bend the rules. It makes refereeing at the breakdown area, the tackle area, that bit more crucial.

Have you had any problems with players disagreeing with your decisions?

Not really. If a player critici-sed me too strongly, I'd just send him off!