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Meet the Referee - David Rose

By Mark H
May 10 2005

In the third of our Meet the Referee series, I met up with David Rose at Franklinís Gardens just before our game against Northampton. David, 41, is another member of the ďclass of 2003Ē, being promoted to the Elite list at the same time as our previous subjects Sean Davey and Wayne Barnes.

He refereed his first game in 1999 after playing at fly-half for Moseley in the latter part of his career, and so it was there I started, wondering how it was possible to go from taking charge of your first game to becoming a Premiership official just four years later.


I was quite fortunate, in that the Referees Society that Iím with is very progressive, and I got graded well on my games throughout my first season.  I also got lucky to have an experienced referee as my coach very early on - that helped me tremendously in the first season - and I think that the other thing that helped me was that I had a coaching and playing background at a reasonable level, which gave me the basics about game understanding.  What I really had to learn about was how to referee.


So from being fly-half at Moseley, what made you take up refereeing?


Strange really, because Iím probably one of the original poacher turned gamekeepers.  It never really crossed the radar until I came back from working with the IRB in the Caribbean.  I had briefly refereed before that, when I worked as a Youth Development Officer, but when I came back I intended to start playing again.  But then, I thought no, I canít be doing with that, and I realised that I wasnít going to make it as a coach at the highest level, so I thought Iíd give refereeing a try - and thatís it really, a real non-traditional route into it.


Is it harder to referee having played the game to a reasonable level rather that the route Wayne Barnes took, in going straight into refereeing?


No, I think what it does give you, having played, is that you know what itís like to sometimes end up in the wrong position at the bottom of a ruck, or get taken out off the ball, or those little things, that having played the game you realise whatís going through a playerís mind.  Sometimes players will react in certain ways because somethingís happened to them, and you can call on that knowledge then to try and diffuse things, rather than if you havenít been in that situation, only having (unless youíre very good) a very limited understanding about why they may have reacted, which can limit your ability to manage somebody.  I think thatís been a good use of my past experience really, knowing what goes on.


So what does go on in a front row then?


I wouldnít have a clue!  Seriously, even though I spent five years working with an ex-international prop, Iíve got a reasonable mechanical view of the front row, I couldnít give you the ins and outs of whoís done what to who all the time, and thatís the hardest aspect to refereeing, always has been, always will be.


Whatís your matchday routine?


It depends where the game is, living in Birmingham luckily I can drive to most games on the match day.  I normally set off very early, say itís a two hour journey for a 2.30 kick off, Iíll set off at nine.  Iíll get to the town or city where Iím going to referee, might have a walk round, find a hotel somewhere, relax a while, read a paper, meet the other members of the team a couple of hours before the kick off, and then go to the ground.  Thatís pretty much the standard really.  Iíll start preparing for the game probably Wednesday or Thursday, looking at videos, looking at my other performances, who the likely players are, league position etc, which all makes the preparation these days much easier, make sure my trainingís right, and make sure my dietís right.


Do you watch - say you were refereeing tonight rather than being fourth official - would you watch the last Saints game or the last Falcons game?


Yeah, because you never know, you could be on after two minutes, the referee could pull a muscle and youíre on the field.  If youíre reserve referee, you canít come into it very blasť and not think ďI couldnít be on this gameĒ - youíve got to prepare, and whilst youíre not preparing in the same way as the referee, my routine as reserve referee is a little bit different.  Iím more relaxed about the whole thing because I havenít got that particular tension building up, but certainly come closer to kick off time then yeah, itís thereÖand the other thing is, you have to be out of the refereeís way in many respects because heís got to prepare, you canít be in his way cracking jokes or not taking it as seriously.


So youíre hoping for the full eighty minutes on the side?


Yeah, you never wish anybody injury, of course, you never do that, and hopefully that doesnít happen, but you still have to prepare yourself as if youíre going to go on.  Thatís one of the difficulties of the reserve refereeís job, you canít go off for a warm up every quarter of an hour, but at a moments notice you have to go on cold and carry on where the injured referee was. Unlike a player who will usually have prior notice we are not in that position.


Who would you regard as the best referee ever?


CrikeyÖonly being in it for a short period of time, itís a difficult one.  I think Derek Bevan was very, very good, and Ed Morrison obviously.  Of the ones that I know and have come across, I would say that those two would be up there.  Of todayís referees, my money would go on Paddy (OíBrien) or Alain Rolland.  Chris (White) and Spreaders are right up there, but outside of England, those two guys are at the top.


Who are the hardest teams to referee?


Theyíre all difficult, is the straight answer.  I think a lot depends on the circumstances of the game and the opponents.  Some matches have games within games, and confrontations in those, and they can present their own problems.  For me, so far the most difficult teams Iíve had to referee, for different reasons, are Leicester and Saracens.  Leicester because theyíve got so much professionalism in that team, and experience of all these things that no-one knows about and can see, theyíre doing them.  Itís almost folklore what Leicester are like, but to catch them, you ask any referee from Chris down, itís very very difficult.  Saracens are a team that are very confrontational and that, I think, makes them difficult in that their expectations are very, very high all of the time; sometimes they donít match their expectations and that can come down on your shoulders.  Theyíre all hard in a way, they all have their differences.



Whatís been your hardest game this season?  I think I know what youíre going to sayÖ


I think the hardest was the one I did at Newcastle, Newcastle-Gloucester, because both teams werenít playing very well.  Newcastle had been thumped by Leicester the previous week, Gloucester had dropped right off, but I think had targeted it as a win.  Gloucester were in front at half time then the wheels came off in the second half for a draw, and that was a strange game because the whole quality of it was very poor.  It was a hard game for me in many respects because afterwards there was a lot of flak flying from the coaches, not just in my direction but in the team of threeís direction, which was unwarranted and has been proved as unwarranted. 


That was in one way the hardest, the other one I would say was difficult was Bath-Worcester, because again, I think Worcester had targeted the game, with Bath injuries and international call ups, and werenít very disciplined, and that made the game more difficult.



Where do you get the best and worst receptions?


Touch wood, Iíve not been affected by that.  This place (Saints) is fantastic, because thereís such a great atmosphere, always, no matter what the teamís doing on the field, itís fantastic.  I like Bath, thereís always a great atmosphere there, despite the inadequacies of the stadium, I think it creates a great atmosphere, as does Welford Road.  Iím not quite sure about the reception from the fansÖon the negatives, whatever you give against the home team, youíre going to cop it.


What are the differences between the Premiership and National 1?  When the Worcester supporters were down here earlier in the season, they said before the game that you were the best referee in National 1 theyíd seen, head and shoulders above everybody there.  Is it a big step up?


Yeah, certainly is for the players and the teams that have come up and thatís been proven, but equally for us referees, because the pace is much greater, the calibre of the game is, the mental pressure youíre under as well, itís a big difference.  You can adjust to the pace, thatís a fitness thing and being involved in the arena, but the mental thing in terms of the pressure the players are under, the bigger crowds, the expectations are higher, all of that, and youíre the man on the whistle.  Youíre always in the spotlight, and thereís other peripheral things like the media, which are always in the background. 


In division one, thereís less and less of that, and players in division one are largely semi-professional, and even those that are professional know that realistically, theyíre not going to play at the top level.  Theyíre good rugby players, the standard of rugby is getting better each season and more competitive each season, but it still doesnít bridge that gap, especially for referees.  I think players can make it easier in good surroundings - you can be a good referee in the first division and be a very average one in the Premiership, but you can be a good player in the first division and  be a good player in the Premiership with good players around you, whereas with a  refereeing  youíre on your own.


If given the opportunity would you go full time?


Short answer is yes, and the reason why is that for me, Iíd want to try and become the best in my own backyard.  I know Iím not going to become an international referee, but what I would like to become is one of the most respected referees in England, and therefore that would obviously go wider than that, but thatís what Iíd like to become, one of the best.  I could do it, it will depend on the time I devote to the art really, and develop my skills as a referee.  Part of the big buzz is challenging other referees who are more established, more experienced than me; Iíd love to put pressure on them that way, by becoming one of the very best in this country. 


Iím Regional Referee Development Officer for the Midlands, one of four in this country, so thatís very, very enjoyable.  Would I consider something better than that?  Only so much as if it would help me become a different referee, undoubtedly.  I really enjoy my job, I really do - the people I work with are fantastic, and the people I work with in Referees Societies do a fantastic job under very difficult circumstances.



You mentioned the Gloucester match earlier on.  How do you react to criticism from supporters, Directors of Rugby, and assessors?


I think eventually Iíve become very thick-skinned very quickly, criticism comes with the territory.  What I object to is when itís unbalanced, and itís one person, so itís unbalanced and then not objective.  A lot of the time, they have the benefit of looking at the video before you do, they go to the press, and thatís happened to me a couple of times, once last season with Rob Andrew.  They went to the press and were subsequently proved wrong, but weíve got no recourse on that, and of course the journalists love a bit of a story.  You canít really rise to it and take it personally because youíll just destroy yourself.


As for the spectators, Iíve been a spectator, Iíve been a fan - I love rugby league, Wiganís my team, I try and watch them wherever I can, Aston Villaís my football team, if I ever get to watch those two sides, Iím as one-eyed and biased as the next man.  Thinking about my role, if Iím balanced, if Iíve done a good job, if I can understand where heís coming from, Iím more than happy to engage in conversation with anybody as long as it doesnít get personal.  We can have a reasonable debate, and if necessary, we can agree to disagree.


Whatís the funniest comment youíve heard from the touchline?


Somebody once said to me ďYou were crap as a player Rosey, and you ainít much better as a refereeĒ.  That was one, but a playerÖI said something to an international player once, and he said ďOh, I didnít know that refĒ, and I said ďyouíve been playing the game for 14 years, and youíve got so many caps, and you didnít know that?Ē, and he said ďYou canít be fooled, can you?Ē.  It was a simple basic piece of law, that I didnít need him to test me to see if I knew.  Those are about the two real ones I remember.


Whatís the biggest mistake youíve made as a referee?


Sometimes I think taking up the whistle!  On fieldÖitís difficult, because you might make an error in judgement.  Off field, the biggest mistake Iíve made was upsetting Ed Morrison.  I was supposed to referee here when Saints played against the Cats from South Africa, and I e-mailed something to the IRB asking for some information about the team, and Ed went berserk, absolutely livid with me.  Iíve never crossed that man again!  Thatís probably the biggest mistake Iíve made off the field.


On the field, Iím still trying to think about on the fieldÖIíve got decisions wrong when Iíve looked at the videos, and the most costly mistake Iíve madeÖI havenít made a massively costly decision thatís cost teams gamesÖ


Which is goodÖ


Which is good, and itís also very subjective because after the previous 79 minutes, if a guy misses a kick in front of the posts, then is it my fault?  The biggest mistake Iíve made was in the first division, I was playing advantage, and what made it harder was that I was the only person in the ground that knew there had been a technical infringement, and nobody else did.  When I didnít go back for the advantage, the non offending team then got penalised, the team went the length, scored, and won the match, but they went the length of the field to do it.  It was London Welsh against Bedford, Bedford won the match with the last kick of the game, and London Welsh missed seven tackles in their own 22, so you could say thatís probably the biggest mistake, but when I look back on the video, the seven tackles, is it my fault?


Whatís the most embarrassing thing thatís happened?


Thatís this season over in Connacht, refereeing Connacht-Montpelier.  There was a kick off, I was running up the field, a player caught me, knocked my boot off somehow, donít know how, I then slipped, my whistle went into the mud, and I put my boot back on at the next lineout.  I went to blow for a penalty, there was mud in my whistle, and I couldnít blow, the whistle wouldnít work.  I had to shout ďstop, stop, stopĒ, and a Connacht player was running under the posts to score.  I had to bring everything back, go and get a spare whistle off Ash (Rowden) to finish the first half of the game.


And knowing Ash, I bet he was absolutely peeing himself laughing?


Yeah, yeah, yeah.  We both saw the funny side of it, so did the players.  That was probably the most embarrassing incident Iíve had so far.


If you were a Director of Rugby this summer, how would you improve your team, not looking at it from a Leicester or Wasps point of view, looking at sort of say the bottom seven?


If you look at it, itís the ability to score and score tries.  Iíd beÖdefence is the easy bit, you can sort that, and pretty quickly, itís the ability to score tries, and have the confidence to try and score tries as well.  Thatís what separates the teams at the top from the ones at the bottom, given the fact thatÖif you were on a level playing field as regards playing personnel, thatís what Iíd be looking at, the offence.  Itís not the creating chances, Saints, Newcastle, Irish, Bath have all created lots and lots of chances to score but havenít scored tries - that has ultimately cost those sides and those sides dear.


Finally, what are you expecting to happen tonight?


Having refereed the (Saints) game against Worcester earlier in the season, and itís now bigger for Saints obviously, a very nervous, tense encounter - I think for both teams, because Newcastle arenít great away from home, theyíre probably coming here thinking theyíre a bit fragile in terms of their confidence, and I think a very nervous, edgy encounter is what I would imagine, with probably a high error rate because of that.  But I think because of the home support, Saints possibly edging it with Newcastle a bonus point.



Next week, David picks out the lottery numbers!  Many thanks to David for spending a fair amount of time before the Saints game to come and meet me and do this for us.

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