Super Rugby’s first female referee, Amy Perrett, on making history

World Rugby caught up with Australian referee Amy Perrett who became the first woman to officiate a Super Rugby match, in Canberra last month.

Amy Perrett has taken a philosophical approach to refereeing since returning to the rugby pitch at the start of 2019. That won’t change in the wake of her momentous appearance in Super Rugby AU, although she is keen to avoid becoming a “one-hit wonder”.

“I've got this attitude where if it's my last game I'm actually really content with what I've done,” Perrett told World Rugby. “It's not going to be a disappointment.”

It was the lure of officiating at a second Olympic Games that provided the motivation for Perrett to return to the game following the birth of her son, Liam in 2018. 

Perrett, who took charge of the Rugby World Cup 2014 final as well as matches at Rio 2016, subsequently dedicated herself to the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series circuit. 

However, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and advent of Super Rugby AU presented an opportunity. On 28 August, the Australian became the first woman to referee a Super Rugby match when she blew her whistle to signal the start of the Brumbies’ match against the Western Force.

Perrett’s selection was kept under wraps in the days leading up to the round-nine encounter, in part because of the reaction to her first match as an assistant referee in Super Rugby. As she travelled to Canberra Stadium in convoy with her fellow match officials last month, she turned her phone off.

“When I AR'd Super Rugby for the first time, it really blew up in the media quite a lot,” she said.

“From that experience I wanted to just fly under the radar a bit and let my refereeing do the talking, not get the build up about it being a female in the middle.

“Let me show what I can do, and then just prove that I deserve to be there on the field rather than have people build it up during the week.”

Relax and make decisions

Having been able to focus on the match, Perrett enjoyed a consummate evening in the middle as eventual Super AU champions the Brumbies won 31-14. 

“It was cool to be the team leader and the one in charge,” she added. “As an AR I sometimes struggle because I don't like letting the [match officials] captain down. 

“So, at least now I was in the middle, I could just relax and go, ‘OK, I can make my decisions' and not have to worry about letting anyone down, or letting myself down, because I knew I have confidence in myself that I can… make those decisions myself.” 

Following the match, Perrett switched her phone back on and was deluged by well-wishes and messages of congratulations.

She was due back on the sidelines as an assistant referee in Melbourne the following day, and so it took the official until the middle of the following week to read through, and reply to, all of the texts she had received.

“The key for me that day was just to stay focused and then enjoy everything afterwards, which I did,” she explained. “I was able to read through all the messages and see all that support after the game, when I was actually quite happy with how I went. 

“So, it was an even better experience to unwind and read through all that, and it was quite surprising to see the amount of support, particularly overseas. I didn't think too many people watched our rugby, Super Rugby AU. 

“So, it was pretty cool to get that kind of support and people watching. And [from] rugby people in general, not just referees, and it being such a positive thing for people within the game.”

A personal highlight

Perrett admits that she “doesn’t think it's quite sunk in, the magnitude of what the game was”. But having experienced life in the middle as a Super Rugby referee, the Australian official is hopeful that it won’t be her last.

“Definitely, now I've got a taste of it, you want to do it again,” Perrett said. “And you don't want to be that kind of one-hit wonder, so I want to get back and show that I still belong in that arena and work hard to just do my best and hopefully inspire other people or other females to want to pick up refereeing as a result of seeing me out on the field. 

“So, yeah, definitely want to see how far you can go with that down the track.”

For Perrett, however, the most memorable moment of an historic day was not the match itself, or the groundswell of support she received, but the reaction of son Liam, watching on at home.

“Unfortunately, he wasn't allowed to come down,” Perrett said. “But they were all watching at home. We got cute footage where he sees me on the TV and he goes, 'oh, that's mummy, that's mummy'. 

“So, that's pretty cool. That's probably the highlight for me.”

Liam should get plenty more opportunities to cheer on his mum next year, as Perrett contemplates refereeing at both the Tokyo Olympics and Rugby World Cup 2021.

“I guess, with COVID, my priorities have definitely changed around what opportunities you take,” she said. “Pre-COVID I was all about sevens and wanting to just focus on that. But, now that we've been through this and had time away from rugby, I'm just going to take whatever opportunities are there. 

“So, if it means I get to do both, then Olympics and the women’s Rugby World Cup, I'm going to put my hand up and, like I say, give it a red-hot crack and do my best and see where we go.”

RWC 2021 will be the first women’s edition to be held in the southern hemisphere, and Perrett is confident New Zealand will put on an event to remember.

“I think it’ll be a great [way] to promote the women's game down here,” the Australian explained. 

“Being in New Zealand, and they're the world champions a number of times, I think they're going to put on a fantastic show for the rest of the rugby world to see why they are the world champions and why they are the best. 

“And you've seen that with the 2011 men's World Cup, they just put on a really good tournament.”

READ MORE: Maria Gallo: A fearless ambassador for the women’s game

Last updated: Sep 23, 2020 9:38:07 AM
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