Rugby as a life, a love and a state of mind

Rugby has been Eric Gauzins’ passion for 30 years and he hopes to be an official at the Rugby World Cup 2023. He shares how rugby has changed his life.
Men in a rugby scrum, pictured from the waist down. Three on the left, pictured from the rear, are wearing white shorts and red shirts. The players on the right are largely unseen, but one is wearing a blue, black and white shirt. They scrum against a blur of green grass.

Written by Marie-Anne Leonard

Writer & Editor – Canon VIEW

There’s a certain dignity about rugby that’s difficult to explain. Sure, on the face of it, it’s characterised by ferocity, mud and blood, yet the game is conducted scrupulously, governed by a charter that, according to World Rugby, ensures “that rugby maintains its unique character both on and off the field.” So, while it might appear to the casual viewer that rugby is all brutal tackles and alarming collisions, there is a strict code of conduct and ethics that filters into the very heart of the sport, its players, their fans, and, of course, the officials who are there to ensure that it is upheld.

Canon EMEA colleague, Eric Gauzins is an exemplar and ambassador of this dignity. A lifelong Rugby Union fan, he became a match official for his local Paris area league at the age of 27 and has never looked back. From a disastrous first match as a referee (“The players realised that it was my first game and were very nice,” he laughs.), to his current ambition to be selected as a Television Match Official (TMO) for the Rugby World Cup France 2023, he has carried the ethos of the game with him into every aspect of his life.

Entering the world of rugby as a match official was a surprisingly simple but lifechanging decision for Eric. The sport has been a part of his world from a very early age, having been introduced to the game by his father when he was only five years old. The pair would regularly attend stadium matches and, very naturally, he began to play when he was six. “He took me to the big match of Five Nations, as it was at that time, so I was often attending France versus England or France versus Scotland. He always managed to have some tickets.” When he developed a back problem in his teens, however, his doctors deemed it necessary for Eric to pause playing for a year. And teenagers being teenagers, when the year was up, “I was interested in uh… other things than rugby,” he laughs. When he eventually picked up the game again in his twenties, he was disappointed to discover that he just didn’t gel with his new club. So, when his brother-in-law became a football referee, it planted the seed in Eric’s mind that this could be just what he was looking for.

Having passed his exams in the laws of the game and gained some solid experience, it wasn’t long before Eric was moving up the ranks of match officials. By 2012 he was in charge of a staggering 300 referees in the Paris area and instrumental in implementing new processes, training and standards for new and existing officials. Refereeing for national and international matches is quite normal for Eric and today travelling all year round is simply part of his life – both as a referee and with his job at Canon – because it is important to mention that for the duration of his career as a match official, he has also been working full-time. “I started as a developer for Canon France and became the IT director there in 2001. In 2003 Canon Europe asked me to join them for a European appointment. I have always travelled for Canon Europe, I never relocated,” he explains. Yes, Eric regularly travels Monday to Thursday in his role with Canon. And then travels at the weekend to be at matches. In the past twelve months alone, he has officiated at 41 games: 20 in France at national level, eight European Cup and thirteen internationals.

Left: a photograph of Eric Gauzins, sitting on an orange chair in front of a window on a sunny day. He is smiling and wearing and official’s rugby shirt with ‘World Rugby Referee’ embroidered on the front right. He holds a grey and black bag with a logo on the front. On the right, a quote that reads, “The rugby mindset is to be courageous, is to be respectful of the people, to take positions, make mistakes and be strong.”

He is also a husband and a father of nine children! How on earth, you might ask, does he achieve all of this without bending time? “You should ask my wife,” he laughs. “But I like it. They like it. Eight of my nine children are involved in rugby as both players and referees, so it’s a family lifestyle. I’m sure they wouldn’t like me to sit on the couch every weekend and do nothing.” However, the work of a match official is not simply a physical presence at matches, as he explains, “It takes a lot of preparation, and even more time to review the game than the real game itself. Then you are meeting with the people who assess your performance, to make sure that you are in line with them. It’s a lot.”

As part of the process for next year’s Rugby World Cup, Eric was one of nearly 40 officials (known as ‘The 21st Team’) who participated in an Elite Referees programme in Dubai. Over four days they undertook physical training, as well as law exams, roleplay challenges and ‘clarification’ sessions, where they review clips of incidents in previous matches, so that all officials are on the same page with how they should be dealt with. The officials also have the opportunity to bond and this is extremely important. “There are three key areas where the TMO is judged,” he explains. “Knowledge of the law and performance on the pitch, which is the most important one of course, but also the integration within the group. Every single thing counts. It’s teamwork.”

They also received a visit from legendary All Blacks coach, Stephen Hansen and asked him ‘how do you deal with a player who has made a mistake that costs the game?’. His answer? “Everybody will make a mistake. The way you handle it after is more important than the mistake itself.” It’s this kind of wisdom where sport, work and home life overlaps. Eric has developed great personal strengths from his years as a referee and now a potential TMO on the global stage. “To be a good referee at the World Cup you need to be strong,” he says. “You need to be strong in your mind because there is huge pressure – from the teams, from the crowd, from the environment, from the speed of the game. You need to be strong, accurate, able to handle this pressure and stay calm when all around you will lose their heads.”

"The more you prepare, the better you are. I have a motto that I really like: ‘success is 99% work, and 1% talent’."

The final decision for appointments to the Rugby World Cup France 2023 will happen after the Six Nations Championship next year and shortly after that Eric will be celebrating 30 years with Canon – the same amount of time that he has been a rugby match official. So, as you might imagine, he is doubly excited to potentially be representing at the tournament as a TMO and as an employee when Canon undertakes its role as the Official Imaging Supplier of the Rugby World Cup France 2023. “My vision is to receive a letter from World Rugby saying, ‘you have been selected for the World Cup 2023’,” he says. “But I know that this is hard. All the guys are really valuable when I look at how they referee in the box. It’s very healthy competition. We are friends, we send each other ‘good luck’ emails before the games!”

The world of rugby has undoubtedly given Eric far more than it has taken and it is clear that when he shares the way he approaches rugby, he is actually sharing an ethos for life. For example, he credits his experience for many essential life and management skills that he has gained over his career. “As a referee you must be a good communicator and the base of the rugby is respect, so everybody respects each other. And you can be strong andrespectful. You can be tough and respectful,” he explains. “But my team have my full trust and I need them. Me, I need to ease their life, make sure they have everything they need to realise the job and to realise themselves. Rugby gave me this in my life with Canon.”

Canon will serve as Official Imaging Supplier for Rugby World Cup 2023, which will take place in France from 8th September to 28th October 2023. Find out more.

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