Kat Roche excited to take centre stage in Le Mans

We caught up with the American match official as she prepares to referee the Guinness Women’s Six Nations opener between France and Ireland.

Kat Roche admits her appointment to the opening match of the Guinness Women’s Six Nations 2024 comes with a certain spotlight – but it is one she is relishing.

Roche will take the whistle in Le Mans on Saturday as France welcome Ireland to Stade Marie-Marvingt looking to make a fast start in their bid to win a first Championship title since 2018.

It will be her first time refereeing a test in France and her first involving Les Bleues which is adding to her excitement.

This year’s Women’s Six Nations features a number of innovations, including the introduction of a shot clock and the Foul Play Review Bunker for the first time.

It meant Roche and her fellow match officials had plenty to discuss as they met in London for a series of workshops this week and the American, who is preparing for her third Women’s Six Nations, knows all eyes will be on her as the tournament gets underway.

“I think it comes with the knowledge that everything we say in [the workshops], I’m going to be the first example of kicking it off,” Roche told World Rugby.

“But at the end of the day, it’s just rugby and it’s just another game and I’m just really excited for the opportunity and the environment.

“I think it’s going to be a really cool, really special moment and I’m excited for that.”

Roche concedes to feeling some nerves when it comes to using the bunker review for the first time but adds that watching the system in action in the men’s game and having prepared with peers during the workshops has helped.

“When it comes to it on game day, it’ll be natural,” she said.

Learning to accept mistakes

It is easy to forget Roche only refereed her first test match less than two and a half years ago, such has been her progress since taking charge of USA’s World Rugby Pacific Four Series encounter with Canada in November 2021.

Roche says she initially found it overwhelming to be the “newbie” in the room when she first stepped into World Rugby’s match official pool but was welcomed with open arms and is now one of the more experienced and respected faces.

The American added another couple of achievements to her already impressive CV in the last month as she refereed her first two HSBC SVNS Cup finals, in Vancouver and Los Angeles.

Roche believes her growing success as a match official stems from the realisation that she is going to make mistakes – “it’s all about learning from them, there’s room for growth”.

“I stopped trying to focus so much on being perfect and trying to get the finals, because I think that's something that affects all referees,” she added.

“You're like, ‘Well, I want to get the final’ and instead, I just focused on the matches that I was refereeing. So, I was like, ‘Cool, first pool game. Go in, focus on this match, do the review, how can I get better in the next match?’

“And so, once I started focusing on match to match, then I was performing better and then I would put myself in the opportunity to be selected. And then when it came down to it and I got selected for my first final, all I remember thinking was, ‘I’ve got to perform in that match. That's [just] another game’.

“Because it's one thing to get a final. It's another thing to referee a final well, and I think that's what some people forget about.

“It's like, yeah you can get it, but did you perform?”

The fact that Roche was selected for back-to-back women’s SVNS Cup finals suggests that she did in fact grasp her opportunity with both hands.

“It gives me this confidence knowing that I can do it and I feel confident knowing if I were to have a bad performance that that’s not a trend,” she explained.

“Everyone can have a bad performance sometime, that doesn't mean I'm a bad referee.

“I know I'm a good referee, I've proven it to myself multiple times. A bad performance doesn't define me.”

Tournament dreams

Speaking about the transition between refereeing sevens and 15s, Roche reveals that it helps her mindset to “think of them as two different sports”.

Yet, two different sports where often the same outcome is required of the official in the middle, to “let it breathe, let the play continue”.

Her ability to switch between the two formats could set her on a busy path over the next 18 months with the Olympic Games Paris 2024 this July followed next August and September by Women’s Rugby World Cup 2025 in England.

“I think they're definitely out there and I can see them but in both 15s and sevens I'm just trying to focus on the next thing,” Roche insisted.

“Because you never know, an injury will strike, or something happens that's out of my control.

“So, I'm like, I've got this game on Saturday, I'm going to go out there and if it was my last performance, I'm going to make sure I'm proud of it.

“And then if I get another one after that, awesome. If I don't, I'd be like, ‘You know what, I'm happy I went out on that one’.”

That said, appearing at a second Rugby World Cup, and first as a referee, or making her Olympic debut would both mean an incredible amount to Roche.

“It’s been a dream of mine to referee in a World Cup,” Roche said. “I've been an assistant referee at one but to actually be out there with the whistle officiating a World Cup match would be a dream come true.

“When I started in 2015, I think that's what I said, ‘I want to referee at a World Cup’. So, that would be pretty amazing.

“The Olympics has been a [more] recent realisation that I could achieve it. And I think the Olympics is cool as an American because Americans don't understand rugby as much.

“The Olympics has that shock value where you’re like, ‘I’m refereeing at the Olympics’ and they’re like, ‘Whoa, you must be awesome!’

“So, I think it definitely would mean a lot more to maybe everybody else around me, my family, my friends. Especially people who know how much work I put in; they would be able to brag about me.”

Last updated: Apr 11, 2024, 9:25:40 AM
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