With referees specialising earlier and having shorter playing careers, Tony Spreadbury, the RFU’s Head of Professional Game Match Officials, is intent on building top officials’ understanding of the players’ rationale so that, in turn, players benefit from more consistent officiating and fans from a more seamless game.
It is all about mutual understanding and Spreadbury recently appointed Rowly Williams who, with over a decade of experience coaching in the Premiership and Europe, to work as a consultant with the RFU’s professional referees both in a group and one to one capacity.Williams now takes part in group reviews and works with individual referees, watching their games and discussing in detail playing patterns and technical aspects, alongside game sense, decision-making and player and match management.
Elements of the game, like the breakdown, bring a variety of potential offences and questions over whether the ball is being played legally or illegally. The player may believethat he’s on his feet and merely competing for the ball, while the referee may determine that he’s not supporting his bodyweight, simply ‘jackaling’ illegally. The player on the ground may believe that he is simply in the process of placing the ball, while the referee may blow up for holding on.
Whether to blow or not to blow the whistle is sometimes a vexed question and game sense is a precious commodity.
Williams has already worked with senior referees within the group, as well as with Sara Cox ahead of her officiating in the Women’s Six Nations.
“For me, the important thing is helping the referees to understand what the players are trying to achieve. Hopefully, this in turn will also help players to understand referees’ processes and decision making,” he says.
“Having a much younger group of highly- qualified officials brings advantages but they may have more experience of refereeing than playing which sometimes leaves gaps in understanding. I’m hoping to help fill those gaps, they’re an open minded and extremely hard working group, which all helps this process” he added.
“With over 20 years of coaching, much of it at Premiership and European Cup level, I have a pretty good understanding of what coaches and teams are trying to achieve. If referees and match officials can see things from the player perspective, and be better able to determine intent, while of course ensuring a fair contest, then it will hopefully help to achieve more coherent and consistent officiating, which is what all players want. Spreaders has an excellent team of referee coaches at his disposal, and I’m pleased to be part of that group adding my own experiences to it.”
Having coached with the likes of Harlequins, Wasps, Bath, The US Eagles and Wigan Warriors, Williams was latterly working across the professional and community game for the RFU to help with the exchange of knowledge between the two. His new role makes him available to all the RFU’s professional officiating team.
Said Tony Spreadbury, “We are pleased to have someone of Rowly’s experience to work within the Professional Game Match Officials team to pass on experience and knowledge of current trends and techniques teams are using. We are also working with the grassroots game to assist aspiring future professional ref’s game understanding in their early days.”