Zamboulis refuses to revel in lengthening list of firsts

Citing commissioner Danae Zamboulis discusses her career in rugby, from Greece to Dubai via Merseyside, as she prepares for the Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens at 7he Sevens Stadium.

Danae Zamboulis has been a citing commissioner for less than two years yet she has achieved more in that time than many might hope to in an entire career.

Zamboulis took her first steps into rugby’s disciplinary world in March 2018 when Shaun Gallagher, her coach at Birkenhead Park, alerted her to a Rugby Football Union (RFU) recruitment drive.

The RFU had advertised for potential female citing commissioners and Gallagher believed Zamboulis, whose playing career had recently been ended by a knee injury, would be a good fit.

Gallagher’s hunch proved correct and in the intervening 21 months she has become the first female citing commissioner in both the English Premiership and European Professional Club Rugby matches, the latter achieved alongside Scotland’s Beth Dickens.

In Biarritz in June, Zamboulis led the first all-female team of citing commissioners on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series

She will again be on the panel in Dubai this weekend but despite ticking off a lengthening list of firsts, the Greek official refuses to get too carried away with her success.

“I don’t feel like it’s something I should be proud of because it’s the work of other people that have put a lot of work in to start getting females through,” Zamboulis told World Rugby.

“I was obviously very happy but I think it was not my moment to be proud of really.”

Zamboulis believes it is the people responsible for promoting women into disciplinary roles, such as World Rugby Citing Commissioner Manager Steve Hinds and the RFU’s David Barnes, who deserve to take pride in what has been achieved.

It is a modest viewpoint, and one that does not take into account the time and effort that she herself has put in.

Game understanding

Regularly Zamboulis will spend three to four hours of her weekend reviewing, pausing and re-watching 15-a-side games she has been assigned. On Wednesday, she landed in Dubai and headed straight to briefings before three days of tournament action in which citing queries will have to be settled in minutes rather than days.

“With 15s you will have to have made your decision about whether the game is clear, whether you might want to take citing forward, within 24 or 48 hours depending on the game,” Zamboulis said. 

“In sevens, because there’s game after game, a potential citing will effect the composition of the team for the next hour or the next two hours, we need to make the decision then.”

Zamboulis enjoys working as part of a team during sevens events but admits the pace at which decisions have to be made ensures tournament days are “quite intense”.

So, what makes a good citing commissioner? “The first one I’d say is having a good understanding of the game, a good feel for the game,” she said. 

“Then I think the different ways you can approach it. So, for example, I’m quite analytical so I’ll analyse incidents and I’ll break it down so I’ll get to a conclusion this way. 

“I think other people, maybe that have also played professionally for many years, might be more instinctive, so just get a feel straight away if it’s bad or not so bad. 

“So, there are different ways to approach it. For me, it would be being analytical and always it helps to be well prepared, prepared for anything that might happen and organised and just simple things like that. 

“And then my last one, I would say, which I was told when I joined the RFU is just to have empathy for the players. 

“I think that’s really important, we’re not out there to catch anybody out or anything like that, it’s just having empathy for the players and what they’re trying to do.”

Zamboulis draws her understanding from a playing career in which she represented the North of England division and Cheshire county while turning out for Birkenhead Park for almost a decade.

Had it not been for a chance encounter while playing five-a-side football at university, however, her desire to try the game might never have been fulfilled.

Putting your body on the line

On the next pitch was a men’s match and having got in touch with one of the teams in action, she began training - and playing - with them alongside a handful of other women.

It brought to an end a long search for Zamboulis, who had been keen to give rugby a go since walking away from athletics as a 16-year-old.

On what attracted her to the sport, she explained: “The main thing is taking pride in the defence I think, and the fact you can do almost anything you can to stop the opposition from scoring. That you can participate with all your body in the sport. 

“When I used to play football or I used to play basketball a little bit every now and then, it used to frustrate me that you couldn’t just throw yourself in there, so I think that’s the main part I love about rugby. 

“Obviously afterwards you discover all the game plans and team, and that very special bond with your team-mates when you’ve put your body on the line together. I know it sounds like a cliche but it’s very special.”

Zamboulis, who works as a vet at the University of Liverpool, came to the UK 10 years ago to study for her PhD and settled on the Wirral, where she still lives today.

Rugby played a huge role in her acclimatisation and was a major factor in her decision to return to Merseyside following a brief spell back in Greece.

“I came here to do my doctorate and rugby was a very important part of me settling in,” Zamboulis, who speaks with a Mersey lilt, explained. 

“As soon as I joined the team there was an entourage. Like, you weren’t friends straight away obviously, but you were part of a team and I got to find out about the UK through my rugby team. 

“And I travelled a lot, going to games and all that. I think in the end I made friends for life, and so much so that when I finished my PhD and I went back to Greece in the end I came back here for a job just because my friends were here, there were rugby opportunities here. 

“So, it has really shaped my life after my 20s.”

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