Navy Referees Get the Monkey off their Back

RNAS Yeovilton was the venue for an excellent training day to kick start the 2013-2014 season for the Royal Navy Rugby Union’s Referee Society members.  Training officer Gaz Fairbairn had put together a thought-provoking day of topics and speakers that generated lively debate and was certainly informative.

Much of the day was spent studying the new scrum engagement sequence and the implications of this significant change.  With the crooked feed now once more being refereed there were already tales of that rarest of sightings, namely that ‘foot up’ had made a return to the rugby pitch.  However the focus was not on trying to catch the players out but rather to ensure that the scrum once more returns to a real contest within the game and as importantly a contest that occasionally produces the ball to the back line!

The new sequence is the result of a two year study by the International Rugby Board and extensive trials at Bath University.  It has removed much of the force from the initial ‘hit, which in the past, due to safety considerations, had become almost the sole focus of the referees attention.  Hopefully with the new engagement sequence the rest of the scrum can now be managed effectively.  With props and hookers having to relearn some old skills the younger referees were able to benefit from one or two older members who took the opportunity to wax lyrical on the black arts of the front row from yester year.  However ultimately it was agreed that the tried and tested format remained as valid as ever.  Time invested in the initial preparation and ensuring that the scrum was set up well in the first place would significantly increase the chances of a successful end.

With the morning technicalities of scrum play complete, the afternoon included three sessions that very much dealt with development of the whole referee and in particular some of the ‘softer’ skills required to be successful.  First Dave Trewin, on the Devon Society of Rugby Referees, spoke about his role as a referee assessor.  This led into a wider debate on coaching skills in terms of personal development and ensuring that the referee took a degree of ownership of his personal development.  As ever Dave provided some excellent pearls of wisdom and fully deserved his thank you from Gaz, on behalf of all Navy Referees, at the end.  Dave has stood on wind and rain swept touchlines over many years helping out aspiring Navy Referees.  In all of this time he has, regrettably, been totally inappropriately dressed for duties with the Senior Service.  With the presentation of a very smart Navy Rugby touchline jacket he was reminded that his Army Referees issued coat was no longer expected to be seen at Navy games.  As a former Royal Marine this should present too much of a problem.

The second guest speaker was Professional Referee Unit member Keith Lewis, who this season is one of the RFU’s television match officials.  Known to many society members, through his role as Hampshire Referees Training Officer, he first explained his role and then produced some clips to allow the attendees to place themselves in the TMO’s shoes.  All agreed that the role was not as easy at it first seems.  The role exists to try and ensure that more decisions are correctly made more often.  The referee remains key to this role and must ensure that the communication between the field and the production van is clear, concise and also that the right question is asked.  Working in doors now, Keith clearly had no need for a coat but instead received a bottle of Navy finest.  If you disagree with any of his television decisions this may explain the reason why!

Between the presentations of Dave Trewin and Keith Lewis, former Navy Referees Chairman, Stew Kilby, had presented an excellent session based on Dr Steve Peters work, the Chimp Paradox.  The session gave insight into how decisions can be clouded by emotional thought processes being dominant over more logical (and considered) thought processes.  Steve Peters has achieved worldwide success with his work, not least through British Cycling’s Olympic Programme and the professional Team Sky Pro Cycling.  Unbeknown to Stew at the beginning of his session the audience also included a pupil of Dr Peters.  Navy and Staffordshire Referee also Navy doctor, Steve Woolley, had been taught at Hallam University, by Dr Peters so was able to add some extra value to an already enthralling session.

A packed but very well balanced training day has certainly set up the Navy’s whistlers for the season.  And for the players hopefully better and more enjoyable games.  If you don’t think that has been the case then perhaps after your match and with the offer of a consolatory pint, you may wish to approach your ref and ask “Were you just being a Chimp today?”