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Speaker Barry Kay – Confessions of a Rugby Referee

Barry is a Member of the Yorkshire Society of Rugby Referees. He was a referee for 23 years and a Member of the National Panel until he retired at 46, when he became an Assessor. He gave a very entertaining and amusing talk on his career. He learned his rugby at Rydale, but was not brilliant at the game. Barry played for Harrogate and York before becoming a referee. He used the letters of the word SPORT as the basis of his talk.

S – Spectators. The number of spectators at a game might be anything between one man and his dog and 80,000. The typical spectator can see much better from 50 yards than the ref, no matter how close the latter is to the action. He also has his own book of the laws. On a more serious level, at schoolboy level, spectators can ruin a game. Fathers in particular can go way over the top. However the behaviour of spectators is nearly always very good. It is often the case that the longer he has been retired, the better he used to be as a player!

P – Players. Without the players, there would be no game. They are remarkable people, no more so than in the front row. The prop will not shave for two or three days and then bore into his opposite number. If told by the ref, that he is boring, he may reply that you are not so interesting yourself! Scrum down is what he has been waiting for. There is an old rugby joke about getting your retaliation in first! Once Barry awarded a penalty against Gloucester for collapsing the scrum. The miscreant insisted that Barry was completely wrong, but there were no more collapses. The 10 yard rule is very useful for the ref. Talking back after a penalty costs 10 yards and continuing in the same vein will cost another 10.

The game in the backs has been transformed by the change in the law which stopped kicks to touch outside the 22 metre line. It is now an exciting 15 man game.

O – Officers of the Club. The Club Officers are sometimes seen as privileged with special seats in the stand and a top table. However they are very valuable volunteers who set the standards for the club and care for people on and off the field.

R – Referees. Requirements for the job: a thick skin, full fitness, knowledge of the laws and good man management skills. The last of these is particularly important when handling international players. He must keep up with the play, otherwise he will lose respect. He must be consistent and if it all blows up, he must remain calm. Nobody wants a whistle symphony and he must not be Man of the Match. He should run the game with a clenched fist, but with a controlled release just sufficient to retain control. He should be part of the game and not a game apart.

Rugby used to be an amateur game, but mistakes can be expensive these days. Touch judges with radios can be a big help in minimising errors. Assessors discuss the referee’s performance with him and make written reports. These help in the grading process.

T- Teams, Training, Tours and Trophies. Very importantly, rugby is a team game. Training is hard work, particularly after a break. Fitness can be very hard to get back.

In rugby, whether you are a Spectator, Player, Officer or a Referee, you meet people from every walk of life. Finally T is for Thank You. If you watch a game, do spare a thought for the referee – he might be human!

In reply to questions, Barry said that many players have only a limited understanding of the laws. At the top level, perhaps they should know them, but for most, knowledge of those which affect their playing positions is enough.

The use of technology can be a benefit. Rewinding is not ideal, but it is needed at the top level, particularly for foul play. The rules have been continually rewritten for the benefit of the game, but probably further changes are needed to make rucking and mauling less dangerous. Mike Humphrey had been tutored by Alan Bean who had influenced Barry’s early career.