Who Would Be A Rugby Referee?

RN Referee Gaz Fairbairn with the Veterans - Army v RAF Inter Services

A new member of the RNRU Communications Team, David Martin, has recently embarked on a quest to become a rugby referee.  There is currently a shortage of referees, not only in the Royal Navy but in the UK as a whole, and this was one of the reasons David decided to enrol on the “Level 2 – Refereeing the 15-a-side game” Course.  We will be following David throughout the season, reporting on his transition from poacher to gamekeeper!!  This is David's first report:

Who would be a rugby referee?  This is a question that is asked by many a rugby player and although they have been likened to the “Traffic Warden” of the pitch they are an essential requirement of the game.  Without the match official, 30 plus rugby players miss out on an opportunity to experience the Teamwork, Respect, Enjoyment, Discipline and Sportsmanship that the game of Rugby Union brings. 

With a rugby playing background that started when I was 5 years old in a small town in Northern Ireland (Ulster, in rugby speak), I decided that rather than get back into competing for the ball on a Saturday afternoon I would facilitate others in doing so.  The course is run by the Rugby Football Union  (RFU) at various locations across the country throughout the year and lasts 2 days (details of which are available on the RFU website).

David Martin

David Martin embarks on a quest to become a referee.

My course took place at the Lord Wandsworth College where England Internationals Jonny Wilkinson and Ugo Monye were schooled.  The course (16 students) attracted wannabe referees of all age groups and backgrounds, from 14 year old school children through to 50+ year old men.  Numbers attending is kept deliberately low to ensure that everyone gets the most out of blowing the whistle and practising the techniques taught.  The RFU course educators also come from various backgrounds with one educator, Steve Jenkins being an ex-Royal Navy Fighter Controller.

The course actually starts before you arrive with some pre-course work required.  Pre-requisites include the online IRB Rugby Ready Course and the IRB Online Laws Test.  The latter being the most important as a referee and it is key that you have an exceptional grasp of the laws of Rugby Union. 

Day 1 started with an introduction to the course and brief on refereeing within the RFU.  We were encouraged to share our ambitions and fears, which were predominantly centred around knowledge of the laws, confidence when under the spotlight and safety, especially in the scrums.  The format allowed the educators to tailor the modules to ensure that everyone gained the confidence that they require to referee safely. 

Day 1 was initially classroom based but it wasn't long before we were out on the rugby field discussing referee preparation and communication.  The communication section of the module saw us issued with our whistles before practising whistle tone, verbal communication and the all important hand signals.  Following this was a quick brief on positioning on the field before we took it in turns to referee each other in a game of Touch to enable us to put these skills into practice.  

Luckily the weather was exceptional and we all rolled through to get some refereeing experience before breaking for lunch, during which we wrote self-appraisals and reflection reports.  In the afternoon, we discussed the principles of refereeing before returning to the field with the focus on refereeing different age groups and abilities, and learning about playing the advantage.  This was again through modified games of touch rugby including some role play in order to demonstrate ‘scenarios’.

The day still wasn’t complete and after further group discussions and self assessment there was an element of homework required.  This included analysing video clips for infringements, deciding if referees’ decisions were correct and then preparing a pre-match brief for the following day.

Day 2 began with a re-cap of the first day before getting back onto the pitch, this time to learn how to referee the set piece areas of the game including scrums, lineouts and re-starts.  Alongside this was a recap on refereeing the breakdown area of tackle, ruck and maul. 

Everyone had a chance to practice their skills in slow time before progressing into refereeing a modified game of touch.  This was really testing, mainly due to the pace of the game but provided a great way of using all the skills already learned in ensuring a safe, enjoyable and fair game of rugby.  Refereeing the breakdown was by far the most challenging due to the speed of arrival of players and the various infringements that can take place. 

Prior to attending the course, refereeing the scrum was my area of concern due to the safety aspect of this set piece, however, by following the processes taught I am now much more confident in this area.  The day concluded with discussions on sanctions and foul play and how it should be managed.  We were then required to complete a referee action plan of how we were going to progress our skills with the main aim of getting out on the pitch and referee ASAP! 

The Course was really enjoyable and a great learning experience.  I would encourage anyone who wants to return to rugby but not in a playing role to consider becoming a referee.  Without them you can’t have a match.

Article by David Martin.
Image Royal Navy Rugby Union/© Lynne Martin