Deb Coulthard is only too aware that life as a citing commissioner is not always glamorous.
On a recent appointment at the Oceania Rugby Women’s Championship in Fiji, Coulthard – who will be working at her eighth HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series event in Sydney later this week – locked herself in a borrowed car as she sought privacy while reviewing a potential incident of foul play.
That came after the Australian had been forced to wait for four hours for another player who had been intercepted by anti-doping officers before she could speak to her.
Having become Australia’s first female citing commissioner more than eight years ago, Coulthard takes such occurrences in her stride. And she is keen to share her experiences with new recruits as they attempt to get to grips with the role.
“It’s important that they gain a true understanding of the role of a citing commissioner and learn the right way to do things,” Coulthard told World Rugby.
“[Rugby Australia] have been doing training courses and things like that, which is really good but I like mentoring people one-on-one instead of sitting in a classroom and looking at clips. I think a hands-on, practical approach is more beneficial.
“You can explain things more easily in the context of a live game, what to look for and how the process works. That 'live action' experience is invaluable.
"While in Fiji I [was mentoring] two guys, a Samoan and a Fijian. They had only just completed the course so I was showing them different things in one of the games. It was fortunate because I had two citings over there, so I had some good examples to show them.
“That’s not taught to you in a classroom environment either. It’s people that have had the experience who can pass that on. I think it’s invaluable really.”
Passion for the game
Coulthard is keen to encourage more women to consider becoming citing commissioners and is currently helping to mentor a cohort of former players who have undergone training at Rugby Australia.
She acknowledges that the job is not for everyone. Coulthard was one of 20 women enrolled on her course back in 2012 and was the only one who chose to become a citing commissioner rather than a judicial officer.
But what might deter some people – watching hours of footage under a certain amount of pressure – is exactly what attracted Coulthard to the role in the first place.
“All the rest of the participants wanted to be judicial officers and I didn’t get that because I just love watching the rugby and being out there,” she admitted.
“For me, being proactive and, in the most cases, attending and watching the games is the best part of my role.”
That does not mean that Coulthard is immune to the impact of her decisions. On the contrary, the route she has taken to her current position means that she has an understanding of the process as a whole.
Growing up in a rugby-mad family – her grandfather, father, brothers and, later, her husband all played – the oval-ball game was the only one Coulthard had any interest in playing.
Later in life she set up a club in New South Wales along with her husband and became an assistant referee when it became apparent that more officials were needed in the local area.
During this time Coulthard worked closely with the NSW Suburban Rugby Union and accepted the body's offer when it identified her as a potential judicial officer due to her legal background.
As a former private investigator and fraud investigator, the disciplinary process was a natural fit and the experience she gained on the path to becoming a citing commissioner helps her now.
“I can see what happens in the end when you actually cite someone,” Coulthard said.
“You know these players are professional players so you’ve actually got their career in your hands because in the back of your mind you know what the sanctions are going to be for that offence.
“While I can appreciate how a player may feel if I cite them, from my perspective if you do the crime it doesn’t matter who you are or what level you are, you’ve still got to face the consequences of your actions.”
Looking to the future
Coulthard will not need to seek refuge in a car at Bankwest Stadium this weekend, where she will be able to take advantage of the latest technology.
The pace at which sevens events take place means that disciplinary issues must also be dealt with at speed.
To that end Hawk-Eye technology enables Coulthard and her colleagues to click on potential infringements as they watch them on their screen, with multiple angles of the incident ready to pore over at the final whistle.
“As a citing commissioner you don’t watch the game in real time as a normal spectator, you don’t even know where the ball is or where the ref is standing half the time,” she said.
“We’re watching back play a lot and then you’ve still got to be across the board of everything else as well, so it is pretty intense.
“Some games it’s pretty hard to watch, definitely.”
Coulthard is still active at a grassroots level in New South Wales and is heavily involved with Australian Deaf Rugby, helping to organise the World Deaf Rugby Sevens in 2018 and taking the team overseas for test matches.
But there is plenty that she still hopes to achieve as a citing commissioner.
“I have a few [goals],” Coulthard said. “Being the first female CC to be a part of SANZAAR, being the first female CC representing Australia at a Rugby World Cup, being the first female CC representing Australia at the Olympics.”
On what it would mean to be appointed to the panel that travels to New Zealand for Rugby World Cup 2021, Coulthard added: “That would be my ultimate goal.
“I’ve missed out on two and that would be my ultimate, that’s what I’m aiming for so it would be the icing on the cake really.”