Monday, March 08, 2010
Jason Lees is having a fine time in Australia. He recently became a father for the first time; he is thoroughly enjoying his teaching experience at the junior level; and he is thriving on the rugby pitch as a referee.
Jason learned the trade in Ottawa. He played all of the other sports, but excelled at rugby, and that became his game. And in the following years, he traded in his playing shirt for a whistle.
He is certainly a dedicated official. We watched him ply his trade on the outer field often used for practice by the Queensland Reds of the "Super 14 Rugby League". The Reds have moved into new quarters for their games in Brisbane, but still practise on their old stomping grounds.
To my mainly untrained eye, it was fascinating to watch Saia Faingaa practising his “throw ins” to his coach. The coach was perched on a platform about eight feet off the ground. Faingaa attempted to hit the coach's hands, as it would be in game conditions. He was most hospitable, explaining his technique from the sideline. His twin brother Anthony also plays for the Reds.
Saia attended Australian schools in 2003 and 2004. He captained the Australian Under 19's to a World Championship in Dubai in 2006.
The Super 14 media guide indicates that Saia is preparing for the game as a "mobile hooker", and should step up in 2010 as the successor to Sean Hardman. (You likely knew that!)
We actually met a few of the players from the Chiefs who play out of Hamilton, New Zealand. We had boarded the flight from Aukland to Sydney, Australia, and I was pleased to see there were plenty of vacant seats. I was ready to stretch out when the flight attendant waved a critical finger at me. "Not so fast," she said, "there are a few others ready to board".
On they came, the members of the Chiefs, who were actually tucked away in a VIP lounge awaiting thier flight. Once they were seated, there was no room to spare. In essence, it was like sharing the plane with the Green Bay Packers. For example, John Afoa is a prop, and tips the scales at 123 kilograms, about 270 pounds. Some were larger, some slightly smaller. All were in superior condition. The League is, in fact, comparable to the National Football League.
As indicated, there are fourteen teams in the league. There are four teams in Australia, five in New Zealand, and five in South Africa. All players are paid six digit figures, with some taking home more than half a million dollars. Australian, Canadian, they are pretty much equal. Most of the players grew up near their home stadia, with one remarkable exception. Matt Dunning, who plays for the Western force out of Perth, Australia, was born in Calgary. He needs ten more "caps" to reach 100 Super Rugby games, after playing 90 games for the Warratahs from Sydney.
The season began on the 12th of February, with the final slated for the 29th of May.
Jason Lees was officiating a "Sevens" game between two schools from the area. The game is played on a regular field, but with only seven players aside. He had recently returned from Dubai, where he officiated at the World Championships for school age players. He plans to work a few games in Canada this summer while on vacation.
Jason explained to me that many of the players on the school teams were on a scholarship. Many were from the islands near Australia: New Guinea, Fiji, Samaoa, Tonga, Indonesia, to name a few. Not unlike fine Canadian hockey players who elect to play university hockey in the NCAA in the United States.
Lees had a big weekend lined up following our visit. He was officiating at a preliminary game in Brisbane at the Suncorp Stadium, in front of 50 000 fans, wearing the yellow jersey. "Good on ya, mate!"
March 5, 2009