This week, World Rugby will publish a series of content related to the men and women in the middle of the action, referees.
On Tuesday, Joy Neville will join Sean Maloney as a guest on the World Rugby Podcast. Meanwhile, we will bring you an interview with World Rugby’s Referee Development Manager, Alhambra Nievas on Wednesday, in which she discusses the work being done to promote and support female officials.
To kick-off the week we’ve collated five of the best articles about female referees published on women.rugby. Read on to discover a little bit more about the women who are helping to blaze a trail with a whistle in hand.
Sarah Abdul Baki
History was made in Syria in January, when Sarah Abdul Baki became the first female referee to officiate a domestic 15s match.
Baki took up rugby three years ago and has, by her own admission, fallen in love with the game.
In 2018, she was part of the Syria women’s sevens side that made its international debut in a tournament in Lebanon and it was also there, last year, that she took her first steps towards becoming a referee.
Baki participated in World Rugby Training and Education courses on coaching as well as strength and conditioning in Beirut, but it was the match officials programme that piqued her interest.
“The course itself made me want to know more, like want to go into more detail about rugby and about laws and rules, etc,” she told World Rugby.
“I loved the course so much and I wanted to referee a match, and Syria Rugby gave me the chance to do that.”
Rebecca Mahoney did not envision becoming a trailblazer when she first swapped her playing kit for a match official’s uniform in 2015.
A two-time Rugby World Cup winner who ended her test career with 16 Black Ferns caps, Mahoney wanted to become the best official that she could be but there was little talk of taking charge of men’s matches.
That changed around two years ago when New Zealand Rugby, which appointed its first Women’s Referee Development Manager last month, instigated a bolder approach to the selection and training of its officials, challenging them while creating greater opportunities.
Mahoney has been a beneficiary of that approach. Having proven herself capable of handling Heartland Championship and Ranfurly Shield matches she became the first woman to referee in New Zealand’s premier domestic rugby competition, the Mitre 10 Cup, last September.
“I really enjoyed it,” Mahoney told World Rugby.
“It was always going to be a step up I guess and that was always going to be the challenge.
“It didn’t give me anything other than a challenge, but I really enjoyed it and enjoyed the pace of the game, the skill level of the players.”
Aimee Barrett-Theron is leaving nothing to chance as she bids to keep her name in the frame for a place on the match official panel at Rugby World Cup 2021.
Barrett-Theron admits that her current schedule might look a “little bit intense” to the average person as she juggles life as an international referee with running her own biokinetics practice.
She travelled from South Africa to Europe in February to take charge of two Women’s Six Nations matches, including England’s win over France at a packed Stade du Hameau in Pau.
“I definitely had moments where I just paused and looked up at the crowd and I was like, ‘wow!’” Barrett-Theron admitted to World Rugby.
“Fifteen thousand-odd people at a women’s game and just fully behind their team, it’s amazing.
“It makes me excited for women’s rugby in general and I hope that some other countries can learn from the support in France and it can be as big as that.”
When Selica Winiata first discussed a potential career in officiating with New Zealand Rugby (NZR) National Referee Manager Bryce Lawrence earlier last year, it was with an eye on the future.
The 33-year-old had contacted Lawrence as she sought a way to make the transition to a non-playing role within rugby as smooth as possible once the time came to retire.
The Rugby World Cup 2017 winner began by refereeing secondary school tournaments while gleaning tips and advice from both Lawrence and his NZR colleague Matt Peters.
Winiata admits she had to retrain her brain in those early matches, primarily so she didn’t tackle an unsuspecting player or take a try-scoring pass, but she clearly demonstrated she was up to the task.
In November, the Black Fern travelled to Fiji to officiate at the Oceania Rugby Women’s Sevens Championship and impressed so much that she was subsequently appointed as a match official for the Dubai and Cape Town rounds of HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2020.
“Last year I kind of considered what would be another pathway for me when I finally decide to give up rugby, and I wasn’t too sure,” Winiata told World Rugby.
“I want to stay in the game if possible and that’s when I thought about reffing.”
It is not only players and coaches whose minds are beginning to drift towards Rugby World Cup 2021.
Referee Amber McLachlan, who took charge of England’s 66-7 defeat of Wales in March, harbours her own hopes of earning a place in New Zealand, on the panel of match officials.
That match at the Twickenham Stoop, played in front of a record crowd for a ticketed women’s match outside of a Rugby World Cup, was McLachlan’s first in the Women’s Six Nations and marked the latest achievement in a “whirlwind” year for the Melbourne-based referee.
Last May, McLachlan travelled to Stellenbosch, South Africa, to take part in the first women’s High Performance Academy.
Later that month she made her test debut when Hong Kong played Samoa in Fiji, and she would be in the middle for South Africa v Scotland and USA v Canada before 2019 was out.
McLachlan is still learning, the match at The Stoop was only her second alongside a TMO, but following more than seven years of hard graft, the New Zealand-born referee is determined not to let the opportunity to officiate at a Rugby World Cup pass her by.
“I guess the whole kind of run up, and everything in it, has been to get to a [Rugby] World Cup,” she told World Rugby.
“The women’s World Cup in New Zealand next year is now definitely an aim and by the sounds of it, a realistic aim for me.”