NMSRFR Member, Melissa Wright, presented to the monthly meetings during the 2017/18 season on subject of being a female rugby referee. She took the time to give NMSRFR some further thoughts to share via the web. Thanks, Mel!
What’s your rugby background?
I’ve been playing rugby for 11 years after starting at university and was always a bit of an obsessive when it came to watching rugby and understanding the laws. Eventually, I decided I should stop being a sofa referee and just reading the laws on an app and actually get out and ref some real life matches – so in 2016 I did my referee courses and reffed my first match a few weeks later. Having played at nine and flanker, I’m rather familiar with the tricks and cheating you see at the breakdown – which comes in useful when bringing players in line!
What were your first matches as a referee like?
It was quite a wake up call! As a player you can focus on your one role and your experience of the game, but as a referee you need to have your eyes on as many aspects of the match and the players as possible. When you work out the thousands of possible infringements that could happen across the course of a game which you have to be alert to, it blows your mind. So my first few matches were overwhelming trying to get used to that different experience of rugby.
What’s it been like being a female referee?
I’ve barely noticed any difference in how players treat me than from my male colleagues – they’re still just as quick to let me know when they’re not keen on my decisions. Although I do get asked “Is it Sir or Ma’am?” before every single match without fail…! More noticeable is being shorter than most players – it makes seeing any cheating on the opposite side of the scrum a little harder…!
What would be your advice for would-be referees?
The younger you can start the better! Other referees are always extremely willing to support you and help you when you come across any issues – I have multiple colleagues in my phone I can call at any point with a pre or post match worry and they’re always very happy to give advice or simply have a chat.
Also, refereeing doesn’t mean you have to bring an end to your playing days. I still play for my team on Sundays and also referee on Saturdays and the occasional Wednesday. It does mean my life is pretty rugby-centric, but that’s no bad thing.
What do you love about refereeing?
It puts you right at the heart of the game in a way that no player or coach can experience it. You’re right there for the big hits, the magic passes, the fantastic tries. It’s also a constant intellectual challenge, both in the moment when you’re making your decisions and in the work around understanding and interpreting the laws. The camaraderie with the players is also one of the best things about the sport – they may not agree with everything you decide, but nine times out of ten you end up having a brilliant chat about the game in the bar afterwards anyway.
Are you a player who is thinking of refereeing? If so, get in touch and we can help you start your refereeing career, just like Mel.