I would be a rugby referee!

David Martin
Referee Team for the RAF VULTURES v ARMY MASTERS Inter Services match at RAF HALTON. L to R David Martin, Simon Aldridge, Geoff Howells, Simon Priestley and Nigel Brunning
Geoff Howells and Simon Priestley keep an eye on an attacking RAF VULTURES scrum whilst Nigel Brunning and David Martin (Assistant Referee 4 & 5) watch on during the RAF VULTURES v ARMY MASTERS Inter Services match at RAF HALTON

So, as we enter the final few weeks of the core rugby season I thought it would be apt to review how my first season has been as a “new” (not anymore) rugby referee.

To sum it up, it has been brilliant and goes down as one of the best sporting decisions I have ever made.  It has not been without hard work and dedication but I have made an abundance of new friends, travelled to places I have never been to before, witnessed the good and very worst of what our beloved sport has to offer; and all this whilst having fun, or at least varying degrees of fun, along the way.

So what has happened since my last update in August 2015?

I joined a referee society.  Hampshire Rugby Union Referee Society is my local society and they have provided the strength and support that I have needed during the season.  It is really important that any newly qualified referee joins a society; primarily in order to allow you to get appointed to matches on a regular basis.  These games will be appointed based on your experience and they will get someone along (usually) to watch and assess you during your early games.  I was very fortunate to have this on my first game for the society.  It’s a nerve wracking event as all of a sudden you are the one in the middle blowing that whistle!  But once you do it the nerves go and you are in the zone.  I remember that first match very well and it will be something that stays with me forever.  After that it is a case of take each game as they come.  Again, I was very fortunate to be assigned a coach and mentor from the society whose job it is to regularly assess me, provide detailed feedback and direct me on how I can improve in order to earn promotion through the refereeing levels.  These promotion boards routinely occur mid-way through the season (January) but can on an exceptional basis also take place at the end of the season.  My coach has mentored many referees before me and he has supported referees to promotion into the higher levels of the sport so I know I am in good hands. 

Coupled with my civilian society, I joined the RNRU Referee Society which provides another set of military (mostly RN inter ship / unit) games to officiate.  These bring a different level of enjoyment to refereeing.  The banter is different and you tend to know more of the players, coaching staff etc.  These occur mainly during the week but it is a great way of enhancing your work profile by getting out and doing something additional outside of your normal line of work.

The more games you referee, the more experience you get and the better a referee you become; it is as simple as that.  There is a bit of homework involved, in particular keeping your head in the Laws of Rugby.  This really is a necessity as there are a lot of them and your interpretation of them is key.  During a game the players will look for accurate, swift and confident decisions.  If they don’t get them your credibility in that game reduces and your job becomes a lot more difficult.

The first half of my season was busy with a good bit of travelling around the county for the civilian society games with my RN games occurring at HMS COLLINGWOOD and HMS SULTAN.  My games ranged from civilian veterans teams and purely social teams, to faster and more technical Level 9 games.  These level 9 games were my tests in the run up to Christmas and involved assessed exchange matches out of county.  My progress was good and resulted in my initial grading/promotion at Christmas as a Level 9 referee.  The levels are based against the technical ability, quality and speed of the teams that you are refereeing.  They start at 12 (lowest) up to Level 1 (international referee).

My most memorable games in the first half of the season were the RN ones  The first of these games was at HMS SULTAN when their team played HMNB PORTSMOUTH during the period of the International Defence Rugby Cup (IDRC).  I was fortunate to have fellow RNRURS referee Gaz Fairbairn come to assess me.  What he didn’t say until 30 mins before kick-off was that he had brought along 3 IDRC referees with him. 1 from New Zealand, 1 from Australia and 1 from South Africa, all very experienced.  They then informed me that they wanted to put me on a microphone so they could hear me and they acted as Assistant Referees (linesmen) for the game.  Wow, what a privilege and a great learning opportunity.  The second one was the Intra HMS SULTAN Engineers Cup.  Players included current RNRU Senior player Jon Humphrey and it was an electric game.  I think it was memorable for the amount of banter and frivolity that went on.  The cheer that went up for a yellow card in the second half sounded to me like that given for the winning try at Twickenham (maybe a bit of an exaggeration).  The point I am getting at is that nearly every game has stuck in my mind for one reason or another.

The second half of the season was dominated by cancelled matches due to the extremely bad weather we experienced, my first Red Card that I gave whilst on exchange and the final flourish to my first season, being selected to be part of the RNRU Referee Society team of 15 that would officiate the 2016 Inter Service matches between the RAF and Army at RAF HALTON.  I was appointed to the RAF VULTURES v ARMY MASTERS (Veterans teams) as the 5th official to run the technical areas where the teams based themselves during the game and also to manage substitutions and sin bins.  This was truly an honour and standing between the 2 teams for the national anthem was something that I will never forget.  It has inspired me to continue to improve and progress as a referee and has given me a head mark of being the one in the middle for one of these games in the near future.

As I have said previously being a referee is an excellent way of staying in touch with the game after playing or getting into the sport if playing isn’t your thing.  What I didn’t realise was what a great community you join.  I have and continue to make many brilliant like-minded friends who love our game and are entrusted as referees to help maintain the reputation that the sport has.  Be under no illusion that by picking up a whistle you are buying in to protecting that reputation, but it is worth it.  Rugby has come under fire recently and this will continue, that’s just the way it is, but you can help by promoting and maintaining the honour and dignity of this fine sport.  So here’s to the remainder of the season and to those left to play (and referee) in the Inter Services.  I like many referees will no doubt be biting our lip at decisions yet to be made but we can sympathise with the man/woman in the middle, all I ask is that others remember that they are human too and they do make mistakes.  As referees we aim not to make mistakes and all decisions are based on what we see at the time.  Remember the second of the RFU Core Values and ensure that referees get RESPECT too.  Look out for upcoming referee courses over the off season and again I encourage anyone to pick up a law book and a whistle and give it a go.  If you are interested in becoming a referee, need more information or are already one and want to join the RNRURS then contact WO1 Gaz Fairbairn at rugbytime@hotmail.com

Good luck, Go Navy.

Article by David Martin (RNRURS Referee and Comms Manager to the RNRU(W))
Images by Alligin Photography / © John Walton


Images by Alligin Photography / © John Walton