Julianne Zussman falling in love with rugby all over again as a referee

Former Canada full-back Julianne Zussman will make her debut as a HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series referee in Glendale this weekend.

Julianne Zussman has admitted she may owe her new colleagues an apology as she begins life as an HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series referee in Glendale this weekend.

Last year Zussman called time on a playing career in which she scored 18 tries in 44 tests for Canada, travelled to three Rugby World Cups and appeared in two rounds of the inaugural 2012-13 series.

Having taken some time to consider her options, the 32-year-old decided to step into the world of officiating primarily because it would keep her in the heat of a match.

“As a referee, you are so close to the action – way closer than I ever was at full-back!” Zussman told World Rugby.

“Rugby Canada gave me an opportunity to referee at nationals in the summer that I retired.

“This opened my eyes to the world of refereeing and how I could use my playing experience to give back.”

Second first date

Making the transition from player to referee has provided Zussman with the opportunity to learn, and fall in love with, a new aspect of the game.

And it has also given her a new respect for those who officiated her before she hung up her boots.

“It’s like when people become parents and all they have to say to their parents is, ‘I’m sorry’,” Zussman joked.

“It’s a new and exciting challenge. I am seeing rugby with a fresh perspective.

“I feel like I am on a first date with the game that I love again … imagine getting to be on a first date after being married for 15 years!”

Zussman is likely to prepare for her World Series refereeing debut by checking out the quality of cortado on offer in Colorado’s coffee shops.

The former full-back travels the globe with her own coffee machine and has light-heartedly touted for barista opportunities on her Twitter profile.

Caffeine might not be every athlete or official’s preferred method of warding off nerves before a big match but it seems Zussman would welcome a few pre-match butterflies.

“I'm familiar with nerves, and I actually love the feeling of pre-game jitters,” she said.

“It’s a reminder that we care about what we are doing. I am happy to be back in the tunnel on the international stage and getting that rush of adrenaline.”

Growing the game

Zussman does not think it will be strange to referee players she knew while playing – “when the whistle blows everyone is in game mode” – but does believe having played so recently will be an advantage.

“For me, it’s important to spend time in the players’ world to have a good understanding of what the players are trying to do,” she said.

“I try to stay relevant by going to trainings and watching games with players – understanding what they’re seeing and how they are interpreting the laws.

“I also like to share my perspective as a referee, because I think that we need to work together to move the game forward.”

And Zussman is hopeful that more players will look at refereeing as a viable option whether that be at the end of their career or while still active.

“I would love to see more players get involved in refereeing, both while they are still playing and when they retire,” Zussman said.

“Especially at the community level, you can actually grow and develop the game and keep more players in the sport.

“It is a handy insight to have as a player as well, it would have made me a better player if I had started sooner.”

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