Sports editor Clare Daniels has returned from Canada where she refereed a women’s international rugby tournament involving current world champions New Zealand. Here she writes about her experience and what it felt like to take charge of her first international match…
Most sportsmen and women dream from a tender age of one day representing their country, but what about match officials – to what do they aspire?
The answer’s the same and when I received a call from the Rugby Football Union asking if I was available to represent them in Canada, it didn’t need a second thought.
Eventually the realisation that I was about to travel abroad to officiate my first full international sunk in. I travelled with another RFU referee and we embarked on a memorable trip to Ottawa that contained many new experiences, both on and off the pitch.
Pre-tournament meetings, scheduled discussions with team coaches, minute-by-minute match-day schedules and fourth and fifth officials is something I don’t come across in regional league rugby in England.
The Canadian national women’s team currently enjoys a higher world ranking than their men’s, and the game is enjoying a surge in popularity. So when the appointments came round and I was given Canada against Scotland, I felt honoured to be asked to referee the home nation.
“Oh Canada, our home and native land, ” are lyrics that I will fondly remember, just as “Oh flower of Scotland, ” will always remind me of the pre-match national anthems in my debut game.
Nerves, as to be expected, were apparent in the dressing rooms of both teams, but what about mine?
There’s nothing like getting out there and blowing the whistle to start the game, and throughout the two hours leading up to the match, all I wanted to do was to signal kick-off.
The match went well and when 80 minutes were up, relief that my first international had passed without incident was obvious – as my touch judge keenly pointed out:
“That’s the first time you’ve smiled all day.”
Lesson number one: look like you’re enjoying yourself – isn’t that what we do it for?
During the following five days I ran the touchline in a game for my colleague, enjoyed the Canada Day celebrations with new-found friends from Ontario Referees Society and held on for dear life while being propelled at speed down the rapids on a white water rafting trip.
But the biggest thrill? That was the moment I heard I was being awarded the final, New Zealand v Canada. The current, and undefeated since 1999, world champions, and the host nation – I couldn’t wait.
Standing emotionless, flanked by two touch judges, fourth and fifth officials, while watching the Black Ferns perform their haka to the Canadians was hard. Just as the All Blacks did so passionately before the British and Irish Lions recently, these women meant business.
And they did, but they did not get it all their own way as a 10-5 score line to the Blacks at half time showed. They stepped up a gear in the second period and ran out winners, 32-5.
The Blacks deserve their title as the best in the world, and with two internationals now under my belt, I felt I deserved a small drink.
Lesson number two: whisky, even Canadian Club with ginger, still does not agree with me.
And so to the end of arguably the most exciting 12 days of my life.
Here’s to sport, new friends, new experiences and occasionally stepping outside your comfort zone.
You never know, you might just like it.