IRB Media Release: Ambitious Unions Seek a Life at the TOP

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Ambitious Unions Seek a Life at the TOP

The 2012 edition of the innovative IRB Talent Optimization Programme (TOP) has brought 32 up-and-coming Rugby professionals from 20 different countries to the Stellenbosch Academy of Sport in South Africa.

Since its inception in 2005, TOP has grown in stature and importance among the IRB’s Member Unions with more than 70 applications having been received for this year’s programme.

TOP is designed to bring together coaches, match officials and strength and conditioning trainers, from Unions that have been targeted for strategic investment and do not have elite coach or refereeing programmes of their own but do have big ambitions.

Participants are exposed to and trained on the latest trends and issues in Rugby by a number of experienced lecturers, while being mentored by some core IRB consultants such as Craig White and Des Ryan for strength and conditioning, Richie Dixon for coaching and Tappe Henning and Bernd Gabbei for match officials.

This year, 12 coaches, 10 match officials and 10 strength and conditioning trainers were selected from a range of countries, namely Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Fiji, Georgia, Germany Japan, Kenya, Namibia, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Samoa, Scotland, Singapore, Uruguay and USA.

Among the coaches participating this year were Inoke Male and Stephen Betham, the new head coaches of Fiji and Samoa, respectively, Fiji’s Under 20 coach Sale Sorovaki and a number of former Test players, including Marius Tincu of Romania and Uruguay’s Pablo Lemoine. The match officials on the course included two women in Leah Berard and Sarah Otieno.

Among this year’s speakers were former Australia winger David Campese, coaches Rassie Erasmus, Jacques Nienebar, Paul Treu and Louis Koen, and elite international referee Steve Walsh.

IRB Training and Medical Manager Mark Harrington said: “TOP is a big investment for us but we’ve had a great return. As an example, in the past four years, more than 15 match officials who participated in TOP have stepped up to international level. In addition, I was very pleased to see that at the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy 2012 in Salt Lake City, many of the teams’ coaching and conditioning staff were graduates of the TOP.”

Dean Murten, a coach from Canada, said: “It has been a fantastic opportunity in a world-class environment with the most experienced speakers… I’d say the best thing about this course for me was to understand what it takes to become a high performance country and to take on all aspects of professionalism in coaching and talent identification.”

Argentinean referee Juan Sylvestre said: “It has been a wonderful experience. It’s my first international experience with Rugby and all the knowledge I have acquired will definitely help me improve on and off the field.”

“Having the chance to meet and discuss the game and the role of match officials with top professionals like Steve Walsh was amazing. Learning from his experience will be very useful to all us referees.”

For information about IRB training and education go to

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