Burt Powell, 92, has given 63 years of service in refereeing and has no plans to hang up the whistle.
Burt Powell has played every rugby position except halfback, but his heart isn’t with any number between one and 15.
The 92-year-old Christchurch man has given 63 years of service in refereeing and has no plans to hang up the whistle.
As a young man, Powell’s rugby career started on the wing. He moved to the center – or what was then a three-quarter – and ended up in the front row.
“It’s rolled oats in the morning, cheese and onion sandwiches for lunch, and as they recommend I have the five fruits and vegetables throughout the day,” Powell says of his impressive staying power in rugby.
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“I can tell you about the first game I refereed. I looked at the clock thinking it must have been nearly half-time and just 10 minutes had gone. It was tough work.”
Powell, who went to Christchurch Boys’ High School, has a lifelong affiliation with Christchurch’s Linwood Rugby Club. He has been a teacher all his career, teaching at Casebrook Intermediate, among others.
He picked up refereeing in 1959 when he started teaching because he “wasn’t good enough to play” and was “too busy to coach”.
A bit has changed in six decades, but this officiant is diplomatic with his words as to how.
“I watch quite a bit of rugby, and it has changed over the years. Some for the better and some that, in my opinion, I am not so sure of.
“The video referee, the time taken on that … in my opinion, it is a blight on the rugby.”
You can’t argue too much with Powell, because he is the ref after all. So what does he make of the All Blacks?
“The All Blacks have got the players to win the world cup next year, and we will see on Saturday if they can put the other games behind them.”
Powell often dreams about refereeing the game still.
At his peak, he was refereeing provincial matches, the equivalent to today’s Miter Ten Cup.
He once had the pleasure of refereeing controversial All Black Keith Murdoch when the national team toured regionally in 1972 after the South African tour was boycotted.
With a grin, Powell recalls Murdoch having a bit of a presence. “Well he was in the front row and quite a notorious character.”
That same game another All Black argued his call on a forward pass, even though Powell “had it right”.
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Players have become more outspoken over time, Powell says.
“In my day nobody talked to the referee, we only talked to the captain. Well it seems to have gotten out of hand a bit now.
“Quite often though, afterwards we get ‘sorry sir’.”
At his age he isn’t ripping around the field any longer, he’s running at his own pace and still officiating at senior matches as a sub-controller.
Canterbury Rugby acknowledges the stalwart, and says Powell is an inspiration for others.
“[He’s] a man with integrity and traditional values who continues to give up his time for a cause that’s dear to his heart,” match officials manager Lyndon McKendry says.
“The young guys get a real kick out of having Burt around and learning from his professionalism.”
Powell makes sure the players are subbed off at the right time, the numbers are recorded correctly, and the carded players are put in their place.
“I just got their name and number. If they are in the sin bin, they talk to nobody.”
Powell has a sense of humor, which he needs given the amount of “lip” he has received from players over the years.
Refereeing has been the most fulfilling role he’s played in the sport and a gift he has passed on to those refereeing today, having coached and offered advice over his 63-year stint.
“All my referee cobbers have kept me going, the whole time, through real contact and club spirit.
“They are all mates. We keep each other going. They encourage me, they have been a great help to me, and that is what it’s all about.”