Katie Ritche (left) Laura Pettingale (centre) get ready to lead the teams out.

Two female match officials took charge of top-level sevens when they flew the flag for England at the Amsterdam 7s.

Laura Pettingale, from Kent, and Katie Ritchie, from Yorkshire, are part of the RFU’s Women’s Match Officiating Programme and overseen by Match Official Development Officer Clare Daniels, who says both have made great strides as referees and impressed on their debuts at the event.

Pettingale said: “I was a little apprehensive at first, but everyone was extremely welcoming and made us feel completely at ease.

On the first day I refereed men’s and women’s games and, over the course of the tournament, I refereed international players from China, Netherlands, Poland, Germany, Finland, Switzerland, Scotland and Ireland. It was an incredible opportunity to experience the standard of play at the top level.”

An experience like no other

It was Ritchie’s first international refereeing, and she said: “It was an experience like no other. Seeing how the game changes through the levels was really interesting. Being able to learn from coaches and top referees from so many strong rugby countries provided an amazing opportunity to develop my refereeing.”

Ritchie and Pettingale impressed the tournament selectors and referee coaches, with Pettingale awarded the Women’s Final between the Ireland Development Squad and the Netherlands, and Ritchie appointed as an assistant referee.

“It was amazing,” said Pettingale. “I feel extremely privileged to have been a part of the tournament and to have been appointed to the final. The atmosphere among the referees was wonderful and I have made some great friends as a result.”

Ritchie added: “It was an amazing weekend, which reinforced so much of what I love about refereeing: the intensity, the physical and mental challenge and the camaraderie. I came away a better referee and it has motivated me to continue to work to be the best I can, and to reach the highest levels possible.”