Navy Referee Selected for First RFU Advanced Match Official Course

Tom receiving the Admiral Sir Percy Royds ‘Referee of the Year Award’ from Capt Andy Kellett RN.
Tom Evans-Jones managing the scrum at Army Women v RAF Women.
Tom’s first Inter Service match as a referee – RAF U23 v Army U23.
Poacher turned gamekeeper? Maintaining standards.
Tom leads the RNRURS team of match officials at Kingsholm.
Lucy Nye fires the ball away under Tom’s watchful eye.

Royal Navy Rugby Union referee, Lt Col Tom Evans-Jones RM, has been selected for the inaugural Advanced Match Official Award (AMOA) due to start on 8th November.  He is one of only 24 referees selected for this Level 3 award which is designed for those referees with potential to progress to the higher levels of refereeing.  Currently attending Staff Course at Joint Services Command and Staff College Shrivenham, Tom will be well used to the academic content of the course but is no doubt also looking forward to being back out in the middle for more practical aspects of the course, once Covid-19 restrictions allow. 

A little over three years ago, Tom, a former Royal Navy hooker, attended a Royal Navy Rugby Union referee course being run and facilitated by Cdr Andy Coles RN and WO2 Gaz Fairbairn.  It was rare for a former capped player to attend the course with serious aspirations of becoming a top-flight referee.  The last capped player to also receive his colours for refereeing was Peter Cunningham, capped in 1964 and receiving his colours in 1987!  It was evident, from that first course, that Tom was going to receive his refereeing colours providing he stayed fit and active. 

Within two seasons as a referee Tom was to be awarded his Society colours after he refereed the Army Women v Royal Air Force Women at Kingsholm, never an easy venue for a Somerset Referee.  He had also been awarded the Sir Percy Royds Trophy, by Navy Rugby Chairman, Capt Andy Kellett RN, for Referee of the Year.  Having previously refereed the Army v Royal Air Force U23 match he was to be be selected for the South West Group of Referees.  Group selection being the gateway to National Recognition. 

In his short refereeing career Tom has already notched up some notable firsts.  His Kingsholm match was the first time that the Royal Air Force had won the Women’s Inter Service title.  The award of his referee colours made him the first capped Royal Marine player to also have his officiating colours.  He joined some very distinguished Royal Navy players to hold the honour, Ernest Roberts, Hugh Browne DSO and of course the famous dental Admiral, Ginger Osbourne, who went on to be the British Lions Team Manager.  He is also the only Navy player to have been capped, played in a winning Navy Cup side and won his officiating colours.  And now his latest ‘first’, becoming the first referee from Navy Rugby to be selected for the inaugural AMOA Course. 

The course is being facilitated by Andrew Small, the former RFU International Referee.  Followers of Navy Rugby may well remember Andrew as being the man in the middle for the thrilling 2016 Army v Navy match which resulted in the last Royal Navy’s last senior men Inter Service title.  Tom was in the crowd that day contemplating the switch to refereeing.  The match turned on the sin binning of the Army lock, Paul Llewellyn, and the introduction of Navy youth as the side fought back from a 19-point deficit in the last 30 minutes of the game.  My match report from the day opened with: “With fifty minutes of the 99th Army Navy match gone, the Army were leading 26-7.  They had taken control of a match which had started with the early skirmishes being shared.  Not for the first time in their illustrious history the Royal Navy were facing what seemed insurmountable odds.  However, for the next half hour, led by their youth but guided by some of their experienced warriors, they stemmed and then turned the tide in their favour to twice level the match in the last ten minutes.  The Army Navy trophy was shared but the draw gave them the greater prize, a first Inter Services title since 2010.”  

During those ecstatic Naval scenes that greeted Andrew Small’s final whistle few were probably thinking that it really was Andrew’s final whistle as the game was a fitting finale for the experienced match official, a decade after his first Premiership match and his test debut refereeing the World Cup qualifier between the Czech Republic and Spain.  Andrew was to return to his teaching roots but remain involved with rugby and will now be delivering this first Level 3 RFU refereeing award.  Originally from New Zealand, Andrew has always been immersed in the game and has an understanding of officiating at the highest levels; which will be invaluable to Tom and his peers during the course.  As a referee he had the pleasure of officiating Victor Matfield and Sergio Parisse in back to back tests, as a fledgling school teacher he was house master to a certain Richie McCaw, Andrew is definitely very well qualified to be the hand on the tiller that guides Tom into the next chapter of his refereeing journey. 

The course is designed for those referees with potential to progress to the higher levels of refereeing which basically means aspirations, and talent, to referee professional rugby.  For Tom this must mean setting his sights on one day refereeing in the RFU Championship which includes so many players of the future.  This is no easy target to achieve as more and more referees are starting at school and do not have to balance the requirements of a Service career which Tom as had to and continues to do.  However, given his progress so far, his determination and now the acknowledgement of others, through selection for AMOA, I wouldn’t bet against it. 

For Navy Rugby it is the continuation of a proud tradition of referee success both in England and Scotland.  Current referee chairman, Cdr Duncan McClement RN, has experienced success and European recognition with the whistle over the last couple of seasons whilst Simon Aldridge was awarded the inaugural Guinness National Rugby Award for Referee of the Year.  Within the wider Service rugby scene Tom’s progress is a continuation of former capped players leading the way as referees.  Few followers of Service rugby can have failed to notice the success currently being enjoyed by Army and recently appointed international referee, Nikki O’Donnell, herself a former capped player.  

It is clear that Service men and women can still reach the very top in rugby union refereeing it is just a matter of making that first step, which is contacting your local Society and giving it a go.  For future Navy Referees, who like Tom, may aspire to officiating professional rugby then the contact is:  Simon Priestley:

Tom Evans-Jones Service playing and refereeing record
42 Cdo RM – winner x 2 Navy Cup
Royal Marines – winner x 2 Inverdale Trophy
Royal Navy – 2 caps 2011
Referee of the Year 2019
Referee Colours 2019
RAF U23 v Army U23 – 2018
Army Women v RAF Women - 2019

By line: Geraint Ashton Jones - Alligin Photography
Images credit: © Alligin Photography