Taranaki rugby referee Will Johnston called up to the national squad – thanks in part to Covid

Taranaki rugby referee Will Johnston has been called up to the national squad.  (file photo)

Robert Charles/Fairfax NZ/Stuff

Taranaki rugby referee Will Johnston has been called up to the national squad. (file photo)

Promising Taranaki rugby referee Will Johnston can thank Covid for his call-up to the national squad.

Last year Covid struck the refereeing ranks nationally and Johnston was hastily called in to control his maiden first-class match.

That was in Te Aroha between Thames Valley and King Country after the Waikato-based referee originally appointed could not travel.

The match was a chance for Johnston, 30, to strut his stuff on the domestic stage in front of New Zealand Rugby high performance referee manager Bryce Lawrence.

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In a statement, Lawrence said Johnston “performed superbly”, and that proved to be a turning point in his career.

Ironically, it was touch and go whether Covid’s restrictions would deny Johnston the chance to control the match.

While the original referee couldn’t get out of Waikato, which was in Level 3, Taranaki was in Level 2, meaning Johnston had to gain a travel exemption to cross the boundary.

Johnston admitted it was an anxious wait before the clearance came through.

“Everything came through on the Friday, the day before the match, but I really enjoyed the match. There is so much passion in the heartland and was something special.”

Last week, Johnston was selected in the squad to control domestic competitions starting later this month.

He becomes the third Taranaki whistle-blower in the squad, joining international referee Paul Williams, of Oakura, and established Stratford-based domestic referee Cam Stone.

Johnston said he was privileged to be selected amongst the country’s top rugby referees after starting as a 15-year-old in 2007.

“The selection came out of the blue, but I’m really thrilled to be picked,” Johnston said.

He has been a feature in Taranaki’s top five since 2014, a regular assistant referee for Taranaki’s home games and recently brought up 100 premier club matches.

“I guess the selection is a culmination of a lot of hard work over the years on and off the field.

“It’s really exciting and I’m looking forward to being exposed to the domestic scene and learning from the awesome resources in our refereeing team.”

Johnston has a busy pre-season schedule, which includes Taranaki’s warm-up match against Wellington at the end of July in Waverley and two Heartland pre-season games.

He will also feature in the second round of the Farah Palmer Cup when Manawatu hosts Bay of Plenty.

Other appointments will follow closer to the season’s start.

Williams is involved in the Australia-England series as a referee and assistant referee, while Stone has also received some domestic pre-season matches.

Johnston’s name will be familiar to many Taranaki Daily News reader. He is a regular contributor to the paper with his contributions on community sport and rugby match reports.

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