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“I am excited,” said Ricono. “I got a call from Richard Every and heard that it was available.”
Getting a major international appointment is difficult for an American referee, because those refs have to have experience in the Heineken Cup or Super Rugby. And that’s a tight fraternity for refs to break into.
“We are constantly working to improve our referees locally and
internationally and anticipate to work our way to the top,” said Every, who
heads up the elite level of referees for USA Rugby. “There is a process to
follow. For Nick we have been getting him prepared. He has worked with
Chris White in England, then Dave McHugh in Ireland, then to South Africa
where he refereed in the Vodacom Cup.”
“It was a big step,” said Ricono about his time in South Africa. “It’s not quite their Currie Cup level, but it’s a professional level, a good level, and a lot of young guys. It was a good experience.”
Ricono spent three weeks in South Africa, and said he had no problems with players not respecting him despite the fact he’s American.
“The players listen and alter their perspective pretty quickly,” Ricono said. “Language was a bit of an issue for me as most of them speak Afrikaans. It was more of an issue for them trying to understand my answers to questions.”
Both in Ireland and South Africa, Ricono said, the breakdowns were very physical, and as a result the players police them on their own, making them somewhat easier to referee.
The appointments were good preparation for him, and he is looking for more
opportunities in South Africa, such as Currie Cup.
“There’s potential to get into Currie Cup and perhaps Test Match scenarios,” Ricono said.
This weekend Ricono will handle the OPSB v Glendale Elite Cup match. His overseas experience is part of the plan at USA Rugby, said Every, to get referees officiating at a higher level.
“We are working with countries like South Africa who are willing to give us
Vodacom TV matches, and work our way to getting a few Currie Cup games,”
said Every. “They are committed to working with us. And then from there [we
will] work more opportunities. We have exchanges set up with RFU and IRFU
Ricono isn’t the only American referee getting international assignments. Brian Zapp is currently at the Wellington International Festival. Leah Berard is expected to referee at the Women’s Rugby World Cup 7s in Moscow in June. Both Herard and Zapp will officiate upcoming USA v Canada age-grade matches.
Mike Kelly was a referee at the HSBC Sevens World Series events in
Wellington, NZ and Las Vegas. Tim Luscombe and Ed Gardner will officiate
NACRA test matches.
It’s all a case of educating those overseas about the talent in the USA. Ricono said the players in South Africa were respectful, but didn’t always understand his background.
“They would say to me after the game, ‘you referee rugby in the States, but
it’s a different game with helmets and pads, right?’ They thought I was
refereeing football,” recalled Ricono. “I don’t think they realized, some
of them, that we had actual rugby here.”