Refs are not 'all out to get you'
Back in 2007 Mike Adamson was delivering stellar performances on the field, primarily as a stand-off.
He helped Glasgow Hawks win the National Cup Final at BT Murrayfield, proving pivotal in the 24-13 victory against Edinburgh Accies.
In the abbreviated game, he was named Scotland Sevens Player of the Season.
He would go on to play in Commonwealth Games, Rugby World Cup 7s and around 30 tournaments on the World Sevens Series.
That same year, Malcolm Changleng, the former Gala and Borders winger, was on refereeing duty at Ellis Park, Johannesburg, as South Africa defeated Samoa 35-8.
A 13-year wait for a Scottish male referee to be appointed to an international match involving a Tier 1 nation, ends on Sunday 25 October when Adamson, now with whistle in hand, will control the England v Barbarians match at Twickenham.
Rightly, he regards the appointment as a “massive achievement”.
So how did Adamson, 36, make the transition from a mightily talented rugby player, age grade, Scotland 7s and pro contracts at Glasgow Warriors and London Scottish included, to now the flag carrier for Scotland’s rugby referees seven years after he took up officiating?
“I guess I wanted to stay involved at the highest level of the game when I stopped playing,” he explained.
“I enjoyed being in that environment as a player and I guess getting to this level as a referee is a vindication of that decision.”
He is quick to stress the help he has received along the way, whether from colleagues in Scottish Rugby’s referees’ department or from referee managers in various competitions and organisations worldwide.
“Your success (as a referee) is not always dictated by your own personal performance,” he said, with endearing honesty and no little diplomacy!
“You need to have support around you and from the people above you.”
The profile of referees and the willingness of the likes of Nigel Owens and Wayne Barnes to engage very publicly to explain decisions and wider refereeing considerations is warmly welcomed by Adamson.
He sees it as important to changing the perception around match officials.
“We are not all bad people out to get you! As a player, I think referees used to hate me. I challenged them quite a lot.”
Adamson was even yellow carded in sevens for dissent by referee Marcelo Pilara of Argentina, yet within ten years he was refereeing as rugby returned to the Olympic movement in Rio in 2016.
“I had always, even as a player, taken quite a keen interest in refereeing, whether in a game or just watching on TV.
“There were some games as a player where you enjoyed the referee, more than others. Above all, I guess, I just wanted the referee to do well, because, invariably when the ref did, it was a better game,” he recalled.
Adamson, Karl Dickson in England and Glen Jackson from New Zealand, all played as scrum-halves or stand-offs in high level rugby and made a successful switch to refereeing.
“Really good game understanding and game knowledge is a big factor in refereeing and it’s easier to nurture that when you come into refereeing from the elite game. You just get it a lot quicker when you’ve played at that level for a time.”
Adamson, a product of Dollar Academy, Glasgow University and Glasgow Hawks, believes that empathy is one of the most important tools in his locker.
“When I was playing, I would get frustrated when a referee gave a decision which he just did not need to give.
“As referees, we chat about materiality and that you give decisions which are clear and obvious to players, coaches, spectators and media.
“Should referees referee materiality or just referee the laws? I guess the referee is there to facilitate a good game of rugby, where you see flow and continuity.”
Refereeing is not without its challenges and Adamson praises those officials who “fly solo” at club games. “They are volunteers out there doing their best and sometimes it can be quite a hostile environment. I admire referees that can go into that environment, go up to the bar in a clubhouse and have a drink and speak to players and coaches after the game,” he said.
As far as changes to the game, he advocates the “shot-clock” – which has been used in sevens and within the Top 14 in France – to monitor the time taken over goal kicks is introduced as a means of speeding up matters and is acutely conscious of the current focus on the time, scrum-halves especially, use up in box-kicking from rucks.
During a recent webinar that Scottish Rugby organised for predominantly club referees, Adamson spoke about the importance of making decisions which were obvious not just to the players but also to the spectator watching from the back of the stand or on television.
He is clearly, therefore, not oblivious to the role a referee can play in creating a good contest.
“The referee is there to facilitate a game and to allow the players to play how they want to play legally,” a key last word there!
Before his trip to Twickenham, Adamson will be an assistant referee at the Champions Cup Final at Ashton Gate, Bristol between Exeter Chiefs and Racing 92 next Saturday (17 October).
His other international appointments this Autumn are assistant referee duties in the Six Nations Championship matches between Ireland and Italy on 24 October; and Italy v England one week later.
Then in the Autumn Nations Cup, he has assistant referee stints at France v Fiji on 15 November; and France v Italy on 28 November.
Other Scottish match officials will be busy during the Autumn too.
Hollie Davidson will referee the Ireland v Italy women’s international on 25 October and the England v France women’s international on 21 November. This will add to the 11 international matches she has already controlled. In addition, she will also be assistant referee at the Italy v England women’s international on 1 November.
Sam Grove-White will be an assistant referee to Adamson at the England v Barbarians match and will act as TMO at the Italy v Fiji match on 21 November.