'Just being in the stadium and hearing the crowd was very special'

Rugby Australia 's Head of Women's Rugby and Rugby Participation Jilly Collins on life as a Match Commissioner at Japan 2019.

Match-days at the City of Toyota Stadium for Jilly Collins (pictured above, centre) began five hours before kick-off.

As the players burned off nervous energy at their team hotel Collins, one of three female Match Commissioners at Rugby World Cup 2019, would start her day with the first of many meetings.

Once those were out of the way there was a field-of-play inspection with the ground staff to make sure that the pitch was in good condition, all pitch markings were correct and commercial signage was in place. 

Next was a final briefing with broadcasters, sports presentation and the designated Match Press Officers, following which the countdown to team arrivals would commence. And once the team buses were parked up and match officials had been briefed there was the small matter of the coin toss, medical briefings and warm-ups before Collins would lend a hand with the team knocks.

“You’re pretty full-on from about five hours before until about two hours afterwards,” Collins said. “You have to be very organised and be on top of a lot of things all at the same time, and then at those critical decision points you have to be calm under pressure. 

“But I think above everything it’s a relationship-management role. So, you’re working with the teams, their team managers and colleagues in the venue.

“By having good relationships in place, the hope is that you are rewarded by there being less issues down the line, almost stopping the fires before they start. 

“It can be a high-pressured role and it’s important to remain level-headed and calm."

Enthusiastic and respectful supporters

Collins’ reward for all that hard work was a front-row ticket for one of the most nerve-jangling moments of the entire tournament.

Needing a bonus point against Samoa to build on their Pool A defeat of Ireland and put real pressure on Scotland, Japan launched a length-of-field attack with time in the red which ended with Kotaro Matsushima touching down the Brave Blossoms’ all-important fourth try.

“Being part of a test match where the host nation is playing, in a stadium packed with Japanese fans was a highlight for me. 

“It was amazing to see firsthand how the nation has embraced the Rugby World Cup.

“Just being in the stadium and hearing the crowds’ continued enthusiasm for the entire match was very special. They are such enthusiastic and respectful supporters.”

Juggling roles

Collins, working at her third Rugby World Cup having served as a Citing Commissioner at RWC 2014 in France and Match Manager at RWC 2015 in England, embraced the “cultural overload” of living in Toyota City and Tokyo before returning to her day job at Rugby Australia – where she is Head of Women's Rugby and Rugby Participation – last Thursday.

Having studied in Cardiff and started her career at the Welsh Rugby Union, she was an interested spectator when Australia took on Wales in Tokyo, and also managed to attend Japan’s momentous encounter with Scotland in Yokohama.

Although incredibly busy on the three match-days at the City of Toyota Stadium, and the two days prior, Collins’ work schedule in Japan also allowed her to keep in touch with events back home.

“There is a bit of downtime from the Match Commissioner role,” Collins explained. 

“We were still on daily debriefs phone calls but importantly, I could keep on top of my day job back in Australia during the week.

“Rugby Australia have been really supportive in allowing me to come here, and because there’s only an hour difference in the time zone I have juggled both and, thankfully, I am not going back to an overflowing email inbox.

“I manage people in Australia, and I wanted to make sure that even though I’m over here I’m still supporting them and allowing things to tick over back in Oz.”

Collins stressed that her gender had not been an issue while in Japan. “In some cases I think it actually helped diffuse tense situations and calmed things down quicker,” she said.

She is hopeful, moreover, that an increasing number of women and girls will attempt to follow in her footsteps. 

“I really hope that more females look at sports administration as a genuinely viable career path,” Collins concluded.

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