Joubert and Prime tackle referees’ travel and altitude difficulties together

Words: Kyle Gilham | Photos: Gameplan Media

South Africa’s top rugby referee Craig Joubert, who will be on duty as assistant referee in the third and final test of the British and Irish Lions tour to Australia this weekend, recently teamed up with top sports scientists to ensure he is in the best possible physical shape to carry out his international duties.

Joubert, who was in charge of the second test last weekend and also refereed the 2011 IRB Rugby World Cup final, has earned the respect of many have developed a reputation for delivering consistently high performances on both domestic and international stages, with this weekend promising to add to his already impressive list of achievements.


Joubert has been working closely with the experts at the new Prime Human Performance Institute, to prepare himself for the demands of the strenuous modern day rugby schedule.


“Over the past few years rugby has gotten noticeably quicker. Rules have been tweaked and changed which has increased the ball in play time significantly and as such players have had to train harder and run faster in order to keep up and perform at a top level,” said Joubert.


“Therefore the same has to be said for referees. The game nowadays is far more physically demanding than it was a couple of years ago – which has been backed up by the information gathered by the GPS units I’ve worn for the past three or four seasons – and we’re not only required to run further week in and week out, but faster as well.


“So there is no question the game is far more physically demanding for us as referees these days as well.


With the game of rugby having quickened dramatically in recent years, the pressure from spectators and coaches alike for referees to constantly make the correct decision and the strenuous load put on a referee’s body by the thousands of kilometers of international travel they clock up annually, Joubert recognized the need to count these issues and called on the Durban based outfit for help.


Through a variety of training techniques, regular general and pre-match specific sessions as well as vital pieces of personal physical management information, Prime’s team of experts have exposed the already physically fit Joubert to a new world of conditioning with the hope of not only keeping him on the park for the full current season, but extend his career as a top international referee as well.


“As a referee we don’t only need to be fit enough to be able to do the obvious and keep up with play for the duration of the game, but there is also a huge need to ensure you’re as fit as possible because when you get tired you lose concentration and you start to make poor decisions.


“These can obviously have a crucial bearing on a game’s outcome, especially at international level, therefore it is crucial for me to be in the best physical condition I possibly can be in and Prime really has helped me achieve this this season far better than I ever have on my own.


“Training has always been quite a personal thing for me and I’ve generally just been left to my own devices however I recognized that with the game having changed so much, I couldn’t just keep doing things the way I have been doing them if wanted to continue to be amongst the best referees in the world.


“I realized I needed to stay innovative in my training so that I am so well prepared physically that I am prepared for more than just the eighty minutes of a game and that’s where the help I’ve received from the guys at Prime has just been fantastic!” he added.


A mixture of massage and stretching, strength and conditioning sessions as well as cardio work at Prime have all been vital contributors to Joubert taking his physical preparation to a new level.


However, despite recognizing and appreciating the importance of the physical structures of the facility, Joubert attributes largest portion of his recent success to the experts he has been involved with at the Prime in recent months.


“A typical week for me at Prime would include a conditioning session with the bio, a session on the Watt bike in the simulated altitude chamber and a session with the physio, Ruan Fourie.


“I am also able to use the state of the art equipment that they have here at Prime in conjunction with my personalised training programme to help me achieve what I need to each week.


“The ice baths, foam rollers and those bits and pieces have obviously also played a crucial part in the whole process but more so than that the experts that I am dealing with on a weekly basis here at Prime make these tools an even more valuable part of my training schedule.


“I have grown to know and understand my own body quite well over the years and have had, and still have, a pretty good idea of what I need to do in order to prepare well. The experts at Prime have just helped take me way beyond what I could ever have achieved on my own though,” added Joubert.


Being Durban-based Joubert also has the issue of refereeing at altitude to deal with whilst knowledge of the physical stresses associated with international is widespread as well.


“The altitude chamber has definitely been a standout feature of the facility for me. I referee a lot of games at altitude so I need to be able to prepare for these accordingly and now I’m able to do so with the help of best scientific infrastructure around.


“The commonly accepted holy grail of altitude preparation is ‘train high, sleep low’ and with this facility I’m now able to do this right here in Durban.


“In the last 5 years I’ve averaged 169 days a year overseas which obviously means some massive travel has been involved – a lot of it being long hauls – and there’s no question all this is physically demanding.


“Being away from home a lot also means I have to do a lot of physical preparation away from home and, especially after international flights, it is so crucial that when you get to you destination, you know exactly what you need to do to your body in order to be able to perform as required that weekend.


“The team at Prime have helped teach me just how to deal with all the travel best and what I can do whilst I’m away so that I can continue the work that I’ve been doing here in Durban.


“I also run a full battery of IRB fitness tests three times a year and previously there hasn’t been anywhere locally where I have been able to perform these tests. Now I am able to avoid clocking up even more kilometers in the air as I can perform these tests right here at home.


With time on the sidelines both unhealthy for conditioning programme and hugely detrimental to his match form, staying away from injury is high up on Joubert’s priority list and appreciates that those at prime share similar sentiments.


“What I really love the most about Prime is their passionate philosophy of prehab – doing the work beforehand to try avoid getting injured in the first place,” said Joubert. “Ruan (Fourie) helps make sure, through mobilisation, myofascial release and stretching, my body is in the best possible place to avoid breaking down.”


“We’ve all been through rehab and I doubt anyone has really enjoyed it. Also, just like a player needs to play in order find some form, so too do we as referees, so missing a couple of weeks not only effects your match fitness but impacts on your form as well.


With years of hard work to get to the top and dozens of emerging youngsters keen to take Joubert’s position should the opportunity arise, the star match official acknowledges the need to remain in top form in order to continue enjoying what he loves doing.


“In theory I have eight to ten years of refereeing at this level left – form permitting and provided I can keep up with the game physically.


“Therefore, for me, it is really exciting to be working with these experts to ensure that at least the physical pillar is being looked after properly and that it won’t be this area of my game that will ultimately curtail my career.


Despite countless past and current top international athletes from a host of different sports and walks of life regularly passing through the Prime HPI doors, Joubert particularly appreciates the accessibility of the facility and urges anyone looking to get into good physical shape or to improve their performance regardless of their level of participation, to consider Prime.


“You only have to look around the facility to realise that professional athletes such as Olympic medallists Bridgette Hartley and Chad le Clos, former Sharks players Stefan Terblanche and John Allan and many others can get tremendous benefit out of a Prime’s facility, but what is just so pleasing for me is seeing old friends of mine from my old place of work in here as well, weighing half what they used to weigh and just enjoying being in shape again,” said Joubert.


“Prime caters for anyone. Anyone who is a social athlete but is looking to see their sporting performances improve then Prime caters for them just as much as they do for professional athletes,” he added.


Prime Human Performance Institute is situated in Durban's iconic Moses Mabhida Stadium. More info can be found at