Queenstown touch referee Richie Heap expects to be constantly drenched next week.
He’ll be blowing the whistle for lightning-fast ball players at the Touch World Cup in Putrajaya, Malaysia, from Monday till Saturday, in 30-plus temperatures and searing humidity.
One of the world’s best touch refs, the 43-year-old also controlled the last Touch World Cup in Australia, four years ago, and has controlled a heap of trans-Tasman senior and junior fixtures – Australia and New Zealand are the sport’s top two countries.
A former gym instructor/manager, the real estate agent used to play a lot of touch till 10 years ago when his team needed a ref.
“I drew the short straw, and then I found out I wasn’t too bad at it.”
One of six members of Touch NZ’s high-performance squad, he’s fitness-tested three times a year.
“Touch rugby and [Aussie Rules] referees are the fittest types of referees in the world.”
Heap says there are three requirements for the role – anticipating play so you know where to be, speed to get there, and quick decision-making.
“The advan-tage I have is I’ve done quite a few trans-Tasman and World Cup [games] so I can use my experience to get where I need to be rather than use the leg speed some of the others have.”
Unusually, Heap even trains running backwards as that’s a handy skill when you’re controlling the offside line. As with the players, the ref and his/her two sideline assistants rotate roles about every 60 seconds.
In a major development, rugby league’s NRL last year partnered with Touch Football Australia, so club teams, including the Warriors, have touch sides who play curtain-raisers to their fixtures.
Heaps says refs will probably get paid to control those games in about three years’ time.
“I’m probably five years too early getting into it.”