Te Awamutu: Plum role for Chiefs' analyst

By Colin Thorsen

Chiefs: Mark Ray and Liam Messam analysing training footage at the Chiefs' Ruakura base.
Chiefs: Mark Ray and Liam Messam analysing training footage at the Chiefs' Ruakura base.

The rugby analyst world is Te Awamutu referee Mark Ray's oyster.

The 27-year-old is moving to Sydney in September to take up his role as South Africa, Australian and New Zealand Rugby analyst after attending next month's Women's Rugby World Cup in Ireland as NZ Rugby performance analyst.

Ray will work alongside Lyndon Bray (SANZAAR game manager) and Andy Marions (SANZAAR CEO) in Sydney, looking at the analysis of Super Rugby, the Championship International Series and all SANZAAR referee performances.

It is a feather in Ray's cap that he got the nod after a lengthy interview process spanning five months - there was an over overwhelming number of applicants from all around the world apply for this position.

"Lyndon's high execution and expectations of professionalism is something I am looking forward to being associated with," Ray told the Courier.

"I want to challenge myself professionally in the best environment I can find.

"After my time here as a performance analyst for the Chiefs, the next step is helping improve the competition the Chiefs play in."

SANZAAR has only recently created this role to provide referee and competition analysis for the SANZAAR competitions.

Analysing trends will enable the game manager to drive improvements in the performance of the referees and shape the Super Rugby competition.

"As a proud Te Awamutu rugby referee and Chiefs' performance analyst, this opportunity to combine both sides of the rugby spectrum excites me."

Ray has worked for the Waikato Rugby Union since the age of 16. For the past seven years he has been head technical analyst of Waikato's NPC squads.

The Chiefs gave him the opportunity to join their performance analyst Regan Hall, in 2014.

"I have been privileged to learn from the likes of Wayne Smith, Dave Rennie and scrum coach Carl Hoeft."

Ray is looking forward to the challenge he faces at the Women's Rugby World Cup in Ireland. He was approached by NZ Rugby last year to assist and support the Black Ferns throughout their trans-Tasman series vs Australia and Northern tour.

His CV makes impressive reading.

Highlights working for Waikato Rugby include making the ITM Cup final vs Canterbury in 2011, Ranfurly Shield challenger and winner against Taranaki 2012, Ranfurly Shield challenger and winning vs Hawkes Bay 2015.

Achievements for the Chiefs include Super Rugby playoffs 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, International victory over Wales 2016 and winning the inaugural Brisbane Global Rugby Tens title earlier this year.

"I have been lucky enough to be given an opportunity to work in this industry. Through hard work and my love of rugby, the foot in the rugby door has helped me open more doors than I could ever have imagined."

As a young rugby player in Te Awamutu, Ray made the local Bowers Cup, Goldfields Cup and Gwynne Shield representative teams before moving on to Hamilton Boys' High School.

While playing throughout High School, he developed arthritis. His on-going spine health issues plagued his sporting career, forcing him to pull the plug as a player in his teens.

In 2009, five years after last playing rugby, he was encouraged to exercise.
He decided to try something different, giving back to the sport he loves, becoming a rugby referee.

He was awarded Best First Year Referee for the Waikato in 2009 and Te Awamutu Rugby Referees Association Most Improved Referee in 2011.

In 2014 he refereed his first Waikato premier A game and in 2015 refereed the Waikato premier B final.

Among the refereeing, he also helped coach Te Awamutu Marist to Waikato Rugby division two titles in 2010 and 2011.

Ray has worked hard to advance his refereeing career and hopes to continue refereeing in Sydney.

"Here in the Waikato, due to politics and peoples' characteristics, I've reduced my active refereeing."

He encourages retiring players to give back to the game they have played and give refereeing a go.

"I love working for the Chiefs. It was a hard decision to make applying for the SANZAAR role in Sydney but one I know will help my personal growth. I hope to return to the Chiefs in the future."

The Black Ferns go into camp Friday and fly out for Ireland on August 1.

Ray will be joined at the Auckland camp by Te Awamutu's Carla Hohepa, a late addition to the Black Ferns after proving her fitness following knee reconstruction surgery and rehab.

- Te Awamutu Courier

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