Referees set for World Cup stage

(IRB.COM) Thursday 27 June 2013  
 Referees set for World Cup stage
James Bolabiu got his first taste of RWC Sevens as a referee in 2009

While the world’s best Sevens players will rightly take centre stage this weekend in Moscow, Rugby World Cup Sevens 2013 will also showcase the top referees in the Game.

We caught up with two of them. Hong Kong’s Wing Yi Lee ( known to everyone as ‘Gabriel’) and Fiji’s James Bolabiu were both involved in their first World Cups in 2009 and both are delighted to be back, with four extra years of experience under their belts, in Russia this time around.

While the inspirations behind what got them into refereeing are different, both agree that refereeing offers a superb opportunity to get involved in the Game.

“It is a wonderful way to get or stay involved with rugby. You can see the world and be involved at a very high level of the Game,” admitted Bolabiu, who is Fiji’s most experienced referee.

Lee, who is fast becoming a well-known fixture on the women’ s circuit and who refereed the women’s final in Dubai four years ago, added: “I look at it as a great way to represent your country at an international level and that is not something everybody gets to do.

Inspired to referee

“First of all I started playing in Hong Kong. My teacher liked to introduce different sports to us. One day she walked past a rugby field and saw it and thought we would try it out. The coach of that team came down and I fell in love with rugby. I played for a few years and took it up because I thought it would be something different and I really enjoy it.”

Bolabiu’s inspiration for taking up whistle duties were more specific!

“I was red carded when I was playing a game with my club and when I sat there out the back having been sent off I thought I could do better than the guy who refereed us that day. I was sent off for disagreeing with the referee and telling him he wasn’t fit enough! It was wrong but I was very angry. It made me want to learn the rules more and that’s why I got into it.”

For Lee, going to Dubai first of all in 2008 was the start of her extended career on the refereeing side.

“Dubai in 2008 was my first time doing an international tournament. I had refereed at an international invitation tournament in Singapore which I had enjoyed but I was nervous. After that I was selected to go back to Dubai in 2009, which was fantastic.”

Massive strides

She oversaw the inaugural Women's Rugby World Cup Sevens final between Australia and New Zealand in 2009 – a thrilling game that went to sudden death extra-time.

She believes the Women’s Game is now much more intense than four years ago.

“It is much quicker now and there are more competitive teams. The players are much more challenging in the breakdown area. The teams have moved on too, you look at a team like Canada who have come through massively since 2009, and you can see the progress.”

Bolabiu began his international refereeing at the IRB Under 19 World Championship in 2007 in Northern Ireland and he too believes the RWC Sevens in Dubai was a huge learning curve for him and he has a simple philosophy for refereeing.

“I try and get a feel for the game as if I am playing. I try and keep that mindset always and I want to deliver to the players how I wanted referring to be delivered when I was playing.”