Refereeing in the USA - Sam Grove-White
Ask Sam Grove-White if he’s got any plans for the weekend and the answer is most likely ‘yes’. He spent his last two weekends in San Diego and Seattle before his appearance at Salt Lake City last weekend.
It’s not the road trip of a lifetime but rather a refereeing appointment with the US’s Major League Rugby (MLR) competition that has taken the Scottish referee across the Atlantic.
Grove-White’s attention now turns to South Brooklyn as he gears up to take charge of Rugby United New York against Houston SaberCats this coming Sunday (5 May).
“At the start of the season MLR approached the Guinness PRO14 about the possibility of sending out referees at different times of the season to help facilitate their league,” said Grove-White.
“I am the fourth referee to head out this season with each staying for between three and six weeks.”
Rugby might not be the biggest sport in America, but it’s growing fast. MLR was established in 2017 and represents the top level of pro rugby in North America. Scottish Rugby recently announced strategic stakeholding with Old Glory DC, a team that will take part in the MLR competition from February 2020.
“It’s an exciting time to be involved with rugby in USA with MLR into its second season and it expanding with more teams next year,” said Grove-White.
This isn’t Grove-White’s first experience of refereeing in the States. He made his HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series debut in Las Vegas in March 2017 and last summer was selected to referee at the Sevens World Cup in San Francisco.
He’s come a long way since starting his rugby career as a five year-old at Montrose Minis and it was during his time at Robert Gordon University that he opted to make the switch from playing to refereeing, an ankle injury helping him with the decision.
Grove-White gained experience at a local level, developing his skills and building his experience before being selected for Scottish Rugby’s high performance programme. Now a full-time referee, he made his Guinness PRO14 debut in November 2017 with Leinster v Dragons and hasn’t looked back since.
“The main highlights of refereeing are getting to see different parts of the world and meet some great people,” he said.
“It’s also nice to be involved at a high level of the game that I might not have reached if I had just been playing.”
Despite the travel to iconic destinations, the working life of any referee is a busy one. Each week involves reviewing match footage to assess their on-field performance as well as doing research and preparing for future games.
Grove-White says that there are a number of challenges which come with the job, including matching the fitness standards of professional rugby players and remembering to take a break away from the rugby pitch.
“One of the positives of refereeing is being able to visit so many places and meet lifelong friends, but the travel can take its toll so it’s important to find that balance between rugby and other aspects of life,” he said.
He also says that despite being right there in the thick of the action, he’d prefer not to make any headlines.
“Some of the main challenges come around by staying away from the centre of attention,” he said.
“Ideally if we get a great game where everyone is talking about the match and occasion at the end then we have done our job.”
Sam Grove-White’s MLR Fixtures
SAT 20 April: Assistant Referee 1 - San Diego Legion v Glendale Raptors in San Diego
SUN 21 April: Referee – Seattle Seawolves v New Orleans Gold in Seattle
SAT 27 April: Referee – UTAH Warriors v Austin Elite in Salt Lake City
SUN 5 May: Referee – Rugby United New York v Houston SaberCats in New York