It’s amazing how far women’s rugby has come in the last 5 years. In April 2007, I was part of the very first team of all female referees to officiate an international, which was not allowed to take place at Twickenham, because that was for the men. Today, the women’s international followed on from the men, and was televised live on sky sports 1.
‘A trio of female referees from the Midlands have just completed a unique first for women’s refereeing after becoming the first team of all women referees to officiate three back to back internationals.
Over two weekends from the end of March through to Easter Sunday, Claire Hodnett of Notts, Lincs & Derbys Referees and Nicola Reynolds and Melanie Ryding, both of East Midlands Referees, acted as a team of three officials for international women’s under 19s matches between Canada, England and U.S.A.
The internationals, held at R.A.F. Halton near Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire, saw the women acting as both referees and touch judges for each other. The appointments are a significant step forward as the Rugby Football Union for Women recently announced a new initiative to try to get more women into refereeing.
David Rose, the RFU Referee Development Manager for the Midlands who also has national responsibility for Women Officials, said:
“The RFU referee department and RFUW are fully committed to encouraging as many women into refereeing as possible. The three ladies have fully merited their appointments and have acquitted themselves extremely well both on and off the field.”
England Women Under 19s went through the tournament unbeaten with victories over the USA and Canada and the England management and coaching staff were all full of praise for the performances of all three officials.’
I knew that day that I was making history. I also knew that it would take quite some time for the women’s game to reach the level that it has today. I was breaking new ground, but I was also slightly too old in referee’s terms, to be able to stick around long enough to see the changes that I knew would happen with time.
I have just finished watching England women dominate their game against New Zealand, a game that was televised live on Sky 1, following on directly from England men’s team, who also dominated their match against New Zealand. Oh how things change. The England international that I refereed in 2007 was played in an RAF base, with a small tape recorder (that you could barely hear) playing the national anthem. This was because England women were not allowed to play at Twickenham.
This autumn is set to be the busiest ever for England Women, who will play two matches against France and three against world champions New Zealand between November 2 and December 3. England then go into the New Year looking to defend their Six Nations crown and secure a record breaking seventh consecutive title. They have been doing better than the men for many years. Its only now though, that the TV coverage is beginning to include them more.
It’s an exciting time for rugby, with the Rugby Sevens’ inclusion in the 2016 Olympic Games, tournaments across the globe, including the inclusion of international women’s rugby in the IRB World 7s Series. England women have had the same head coach, Gary Street, for the last five years. He is clearly doing something right!
Where I left rugby to pursue a sporting career in triathlon, Claire Hodnett continued to progress as a referee. In 2011 she was awarded her first women’s international and made history by becoming part of the first all female set of officials at Twickenham. This year she became one of only two English female referees to be awarded a place on the IRB international female referee panel. She joins England’s Claire Daniels, and Canada’s Sherry Trumbull, to name just two of the twelve strong team. Trumbull was today’s referee for the match between England and Canada.
IRB Chairman Bernard Lapasset said:
“The IRB is committed to the growth and development of women’s Rugby worldwide through our Women’s Rugby Plan and there are now more women and girls participating in the sport than ever before.”
“The introduction of a dedicated female referee panel and performance management structure in 2010 was a milestone for the Game and since then the standards of officiating have continued to improve with the world’s top female referees being given the opportunities to realise their potential.”
Supporting the panels is a development pathway that standardises and structures performance management and preparations ahead of Rugby World Cup Sevens 2013, Women’s Rugby World Cup 2014 and the Rugby Sevens tournaments at the 2016 Olympic Games.