Former Springbok Sevens, Stormers, Western Province and Griquas wing Egon Seconds became the first South African to make the transition from professional player to Super Rugby referee.
What position did you find yourself in when you retired?
Well, I was happy that I didn’t have to put my body through another pre-season [laughs]! After retiring from all rugby in 2011, I entered a few business interests and even coached at Rondebosch. Then in 2013, [SARU head of referees] Mark Lawrence approached me about considering a career in refereeing. And my first reaction was no ways! I saw how referees were abused as a player, and I didn’t want to put myself in that position. But after some time, I realised that it could be a realistic option for me to give back to the game. I wasn’t very passionate about coaching, so I became open to exploring life as a referee.
How did you find the transition from player to referee?
It made me see rugby differently as I got to study the game from a referee’s point of view. It made me realise how much work professional referees have to put in and I’ve gained a lot of respect for officials during my time with the whistle. My development was also fast-tracked as SARU identified me as individual who could add a lot of value by encouraging more South African players to be interested in becoming referees, which keeps that knowledge and experience in the game. Yes, some doubted whether I could handle the pressure, but I wasn’t just given my opportunities – I had to prove that I could deliver good performances, which were always reviewed.
What hard work did you have to do behind the scenes, which most people don’t know about?
First and foremost, I was very surprised when it came to the fitness requirements – professional referees are fit! I had to lose 10kg of weight when I started, so I returned to a strict training routine. As a backline player, I also had to get familiar with the laws at the scrums and breakdowns. I work with great professionals at SARU, who educated me about officiating the technical laws and processes. Some forwards don’t give many referees respect when it comes to set-pieces, but the proper structures are in place to ensure all officials know how to make the right calls. There’s also regular communication among referees – we keep in contact on a weekly basis. We even attended a Super Rugby pre-season camp in Australia, where I got to learn from some of the best referees in the world. It’s great knowing that referees are taking a real professional approach to rugby, which will add a lot of value to the game.
Did you experience as a professional player offer any value?
I had the advantage of understanding the game in terms of flow and positive play, which helped a lot. I’d recognise certain scenarios and understand what was going through the player’s mind, while I also knew how coaches and the team would want the game to flow. For example, I’d allow advantage to go on a bit longer instead of stopping the play and killing momentum.
Do you have any advice for players who are thinking about life after rugby?
Whether you want to start a second career in rugby or outside the sport, just know it’s going to require a lot of commitment and hard work to make your next chapter a success. If players are interested in coaching or refereeing, I’d encourage them to study that rugby law book and participate in qualification courses during your career. When you have time off, why not put it to good use? It will not only create solid career options after your career, but it will make you a smarter and better player. I also commend MyPlayers for putting in the work to help professional players think about these sort of things earlier in their career. I didn’t have that influence when I started out, so it’s good to hear about junior players going through life skill workshops and guys putting proper financial plans in place. This will help players make smart decisions when deciding their future.
What do you like to do away from rugby?
I like to stay active. I love the outdoors, so I go hiking or explore a mountain trail. It’s a great way to break away from rugby.
By Gareth Duncan