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By Sky Sports Rugby Union
Last Updated: 20/10/20 6:19pm
Fiji and Barbarians assistant coach Glen Jackson speaks exclusively to Sky Sports about his rugby transition from player to referee, and then most recently to coach…
Jackson was speaking as a guest on the latest episode of the Will Greenwood Podcast, and ahead of the Barbarians’ clash with England at Twickenham on Sunday, live on Sky Sports.
Having carved out a professional playing career between 1999 and 2010 – first in his native New Zealand with the Chiefs, and then in England and the Premiership with Saracens for six years – Jackson took the unusual step upon retiring to venture into a first class refereeing career.
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Having moved back to New Zealand to become a referee, Jackson was fast-tracked first by the New Zealand Rugby Union and then by SANZAAR – organisers of Super Rugby and the Rugby Championship.
Indeed, within a year of his return, Jackson had gone from refereeing provincial games at lower level, to the ITM Cup and then Super Rugby by 2011. He acted as TMO at Test level in 2011, and made his refereed his first Six Nations clash in February 2015.
By the autumn of 2015, Jackson had been selected to referee at that year’s Rugby World Cup. Four more years of refereeing followed at the top level, before Jackson was overlooked for selection to the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan, retiring shortly afterwards, before taking another unexpected step: becoming assistant coach to Vern Cotter at Fiji and, latterly, the Barbarians.
Firstly, why did he hang up the whistle?
“There was the disappointment obviously of not making the World Cup, first of all, but once I got over the selection and not making that, I was really keen to have another year,” Jackson tells Sky Sports Rugby.
“New Zealand were really good in terms of signing me up for another year to referee in Super Rugby, and then, really, the body just sort of gave way.
“I’ve just had a hip replacement 15 weeks ago, so there was a lot of good young guys coming through, and then I had the opportunity with Vern to sort of change tact and it’s something I always wanted to do.
“Even when I finished playing, instead of reffing I was thinking about the coaching role, so I guess after 10 years with the whistle and this opportunity coming up, it was just too good to pass.
“I’m very excited, but my 10 years with the whistle were extremely enjoyable. I guess to finish on your own terms, like anything in sport, is a good way to go.
“It was the right time to give it up.”
Having come from a background as a professional player, what was Jackson’s experience like of the refereeing environment?
How did things change?
“Lucky enough coming from my background in terms of being part of a team, it was something that definitely wasn’t there within the referee group and we worked really hard on creating more of a team atmosphere vs individual efforts in trying to strive for those top games.
“The disappointment of not making it [to the 2019 Rugby World Cup] – I was extremely lucky to go to the England World Cup in 2015, which I thought was phenomenal.
“Like anything you always strive to a peak, and my peak was going to be to try to get to the 2019 World Cup and create a really good atmosphere between a good bunch of men trying their best in the middle of the field.
“So to miss out on that was probably more disappointing than missing out on the games. I just thought we had a really good group, and the mixture, I thought hopefully, would have been alright just to carry on.
“But we all know selection is just people’s opinion, and you have to that on the chin. Like anything, you take it pretty hard, pretty early, and then you move on to see what’s next.
“Lucky enough, something did come up next.”
How did Jackson’s opportunity to coach come about? And was it always something he wished to engage in?
“It probably started when I finished with Saracens, where I was lucky enough to be coached by Eddie [Jones] for quite a few years.
“And there was the opportunity to carry on up in Japan straight away when I finished, and a lot of rugby players do these days.
“It was a difficult moment to not take that up, and my goal was always to coach, but this opportunity of refereeing came up, which is still being part of our great game but is a real individual aspect of it, and I felt this was a great chance to learn a different part of the game and more about myself.
“I thought I could only do it for four years, and ended up doing it for 10 because I loved it so much.”
On Sunday, when England face the Barbarians, Jackson will venture into his maiden experience as an international coach, and that at a ground he has history with for big occasions…
“My last game for Saracens was at Twickenham, my first intentional as a ref was Fiji vs England at Twickenham and to have my first taste of international rugby as a coach back at Twickenham, even though there will be nobody there, will be bloody special.”