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Letter from Tbilisi

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Johan Greeff is one of four South Africans making a contribution to World Rugby's Under-20. He has written to us from Tbilisi, capital of Georgia.

A few months back, Jaco van Heerden (as referee), Mark Lawrence (as performance reviewer) and I (as TMO) got the call up to do duty at Junior World Championship 2017. What an honour! The excitement ran high, but the reality was still in the distant future.

As the saying goes “time flies when you're having fun” and departure date arrived so quickly. Friday, May 26, and we had to board our flight for Georgia. Mark was the lucky one starting his journey with a three-hour delay in Durban, but we met up at OR Tambo and at 20.50 we were on our way with Qatar Airways.

First stop was Doha in Qatar where we had a seven-hour layover. We accessed the lounge and mostly tried to rest. Took a walk about in the airport, but really not much to see.

Next flight was to Tbilisi with a short stop in Bahu, Azerbijan. About an hour later we were on our way again.

Arrival in Tbilisi at 19.10 on May 27 and we were met by friendly faces and driven to the Biltmore Hotel in style. The friendly driver told us as much of his country as he could in the 20-minute trip and we thoroughly enjoyed his conversation.

This hotel is great. Check-in was seamless and we all disappeared to freshen up before trying to find a place we could have dinner. Found a nice steakhouse, without steak, but had dinner and off to bed to catch up on some much-needed rest.

Sunday, May 28, started with a very relaxed morning as some people arrived only in the early hours of the morning. Slowly the team was coming together for meet and greets.

Our first workshop was in the afternoon and after four hours it felt as if we only just started. A great group of young referees. Alain Rolland led the workshop and there was no hiding from giving input as he quickly picked up who the quiet ones were and drew them into the conversation.

Nothing brings you quicker into participation than being put on the spot to make a refereeing decision in front of your peers. Once again an early night for most as ‘jet lag’ set in.

Monday, May 29, was also workshop day and we got stuck in after breakfast. Normally in South Africa "after breakfast" will be at about 08.00 for 08.30, but here it was 10.00. Not that it mattered as it is almost summer in Georgia and sunrise is from about 05.30 and the sun sets only at about 21.00. Before breakfast, some of us were in the gym already and raring to go.

We started with an introduction to Hawk-eye. Now, this is the system for the future for TMOs. It is very interesting and would take some getting used to, but using it would also be the only way to do it. The three TMOs at the tournament were really looking forward to the opportunity.

We then got stuck into the rest of the workshop from Sunday. What I found interesting was getting used to all the different accents of English.

In the group we have referees from England, France, Wales, Scotland, Argentina, an Aussie, a Kiwi, Ireland, Italy, Japan and the South African version of English. Really took some listening to hear what everyone said. Once again going through the paces to set the standard for the first games. The appointments for the first games were made and everyone seemed happy.

The rest of Day 2 and Day 3 we had off and most of us just relaxed in the hotel as Day 4 would be the first match day. The three of us took a walk downtown to find something to eat. Something big and saucy. And we found it.

After getting rid of the hunger we checked out some shops. Pretty much the same as anywhere else, just the price that differs and in Tbilisi it is not that expensive.

On Day 3 I took a walk to the other side of the town area close to us. One thing that you do not often see is people crossing the streets. They have these subway walkways to ‘cross’ the street underground. Some of them even have these little shops that sell anything from food to clothes.

The clothes and watches are most probably fakes. The best one I saw is a Rolex for 60GEL (Georgian Lari). Multiply that by five and that is the price in ZAR. It will probably work only till you leave the shop. Tempting, but no thanks.

Match Day 1, May 31, eventually arrived and proved to be a long day for some as I had to be at the grounds early to see the Hawk-eye set-up and also do games 1 and 3 and come back after game 4. We left the hotel at 11.00 and arrived back at 23.30.

We saw great games and using Hawk-eye took some getting used to. In short, this is a system that gets the footage from all the cameras around the field. We can then review incidents of air and, if it is serious enough to have an official TMO review done, we then refer it to the referee.

This saves a lot of time especially for the broadcaster to find the incident. Once referred, Hawk-eye then offers the broadcaster the first and normally best angle for a decision. The operator’s biggest complaint was that we do not talk to them enough. More talk and less pointing, they said. A really great system to work with. Maybe one day we will have it in South Africa. Who knows?

The two days after match day are review and debriefing days. By the end of Friday, June 2, we had our next appointments. This time Mark and I were some of the lucky ones having to make the trip to Kutaisi where one of the pools is based and their games played. What we heard from the first group who went there, interesting! More about this after our visit there.

Saturday, June 3, I went shoe shopping. Strange but true. When asking my daughter what I could bring her one of the items on the very long list was shoes. I was fortunate to find a shop not far from the Hotel which did the trick. One item can be ticked off, many more to go. At about 18.00 we left the Hotel for our trip to Kutaisi. It is about a four-hour drive by bus and we arrived there safely.

Week 1 in Georgia done and dusted.

From Johan Greeff
World Rugby Under-20 Championships
Tbilisi, Georgia
31/05/2017 – 18/06/2017 advert