Hollie Davidson's Six Nations debut
Everyone knows how much the Six Nations competition means to rugby fans and players, but what’s the experience like for the person who’s keeping order for 80 minutes on the pitch?
Scottish referee Hollie Davidson got the chance to find out when she was selected by World Rugby to oversee a fifth round fixture in this year’s Women’s Six Nations.
She officiated Wales’ 24-5 bonus-point win over Ireland at Cardiff Arms Park and after missing out on last year’s Six Nations due to injury, she was determined to make the most of the opportunity.
“I tried to go into this game a lot more relaxed and actually tried to enjoy the experience. I went out there, I absolutely loved it and it’s a game I really enjoyed.
“I think it’s good to have those nerves and that excitement. It’s just how you can switch that into being focussed and have that adrenaline for carrying into the game.”
Rewind seven years and Davidson was a scrum-half at Murrayfield Wanderers. She had also played for Scotland U20 but a shoulder injury cut short her playing career. Despite this setback, Davidson’s enthusiasm for the game was undiminished and refereeing seemed to be the ideal avenue to pursue.
“The first thing I noticed when moving from playing to refereeing was physically I felt fine, but I was just mentally exhausted when I came off the pitch” she said.
“You could have anything from 150-250 rucks per game that you’re looking at and trying to analyse and make decisions on.
“It was a new challenge that seemed completely out with my comfort zone.
“Whereas now, you get used to seeing things on the pitch and things become second nature as you get more refereeing under your belt.”
Since becoming Scottish Rugby’s first contracted female referee in June 2017, Davidson has been building up her experience in a variety of competitions. She has been a regular on the Women’s World Rugby HSBC Sevens Series and was an assistant referee in the 2017 World’s Rugby World Cup. Last year she took charge of several games in the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games.
“The travelling is amazing,” she said. “Being on the 7s circuit we get to travel to some incredible places.
“This year, there’s six stops on the women’s circuit and next year it’s increasing to eight stops, including Cape Town and Hamilton.
Despite the glamorous locations, Davidson says being on the 7s circuit does come with challenges.
“Trying to find time to relax between games is very tough,” she said. “You’re trying to get your body and brain back to a normal level which allows you to bring it back to its peak so you’re focussed and switched on for the next match.”
Davidson said that when she made the decision to become a qualified match official, she had some specific goals in mind.
“Referees normally have a really bad reputation and they’re always seen to be the ones ruining the game so I felt I could maybe go in and change that perception and put a more positive spin on things,” she said.
“I used to be very mouthy on the pitch, so I know that at times emotions can supersede behaviour. I can see where players are coming from, and as long as you don’t get wrapped up in that then from my perspective it gives me a huge advantage.”
“I just saw it as a new challenge, something completely different and an opportunity to try something new.”
It’s a job that can involve a lot of reflection and analysis, but Davidson clearly enjoys her time officiating matches and says that she hopes refereeing will begin to be viewed as a norm that can be done alongside coaching or playing.
“The last two years has absolutely flown by since I’ve been a contracted referee. The joy and friends and places that I’ve been is just incredible. I couldn’t rate it highly enough,” she said.
“There are difficult times, and it can be tough, especially when you get honest and brutal feedback.
“I would just encourage people to try it and look at the places you could potentially travel with the whistle in your hand.”