As Langebaan beckons us southwards in a couple of days, with the mountain air of Piketberg to follow, my mind turns away from rugby and on to matters far more mundane – decisions about what to braai this evening or when to take my afternoon nap. Should I start the nap on my left side or on the right?? If things go according to plan, and I am not in charge here as my wife and daughters – egged on by my mother-in-law – take control of all things social, I am hoping to meet up with a couple of the resident Armchair Critics whilst down in the Cape. With a bit of luck Brian, Jon, and others…..

The final thought for 2014?

The refs and matters refereeing are giving me sleepless nights.

Rugby players are professionals. They are required to live fairly austere lifestyles with huge physical demands, plenty of practices, all manner of fitness tests and training programmes, dietary programmes, and the like. Their lives are run by team coaches, conditioning coaches, strength coaches, defensive coaches, attack coaches, video analysis sessions, strategy meetings, and practice after practice, after practice.

They choose this life and lifestyle for a variety of reasons, including but not restricted to a decent pay packet. It is a choice that they have made.

What really bothers me is that these professionals place their careers and their lives in the hands of a bunch of part-timers.

The referees of this sport are, mostly, part-timers. Amateurs who pick up a whistle on weekends and run the rule over a professional sport. South Africa has two full time professional referees. England apparently has one. Wales has another. I am not sure of the number in New Zealand, but I was told it is just 1. Australia apparently has none.

All of the on-field referees bar a very small minority, have regular day jobs that pay their bills and keep the home fires burning. They officiate at professional rugby games as a hobby rather than as a job. There is no consequence of failure if they get things wrong.

Their decisions could ruin, even end, a player’s career, yet their own mistakes have no serious consequences. Jaco Peyper gets tired of dishing yellow cards – that is okay because his legal practice is booming. Stuart Berry makes a wrong call? That is okay, his events management company is doing well. Advocates, school teachers, security managers, sales managers, insurance agents, they all get a pay cheque that has nothing to do with their performance on the rugby field.

Television Match Officials are equally amateur or part-timers, with the added benefit of almost total anonymity! If they get it wrong they are simply a voice coming from a speaker. You cannot even identify the person you are cross with!

Ahh, the refereeing bosses will say – we cannot get enough people to volunteer to ref games! We cannot censure or publicly punish a ref who makes mistakes, because we need him again next weekend. “We need those guys….”

That is a poor excuse! The solution is a simple one. Rugby is a professional game, make refereeing a fully professional part of the game. Recruit, train, and PAY referees a decent structured salary with incentives and bonuses so that they have a worthwhile career and incentives to get it right, first time, every time. Use them during the week by allocating individuals to clubs, schools, and to sports clinics. Use them to educate players, and to gain personal experience and understanding of the reality of the game itself.

Make it worth their while if they get things right, and have a series of disincentives if they get things wrong.

And with that thought I will stop thinking about rugby for a couple of weeks. I may still log on and see what is happening, but in a desultory manner as we will only have intermittent access to the world wide web and to electronic signals.

Y”all have a superb festive season – Merry Christmas to those that celebrate Christmas as I do, and Happy Holidays to those that do not. Drive carefully, and have a good one!

See you next year!