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tackling rugby refereeing

Diminutive, slight and softly spoken, it’s difficult to believe that Sixth Form student Natalie Gregory commands a field of towering rugby giants as a referee.

Most recently she grabbed her whistle for the Rosslyn Park Rugby 7s Tournament – the largest school rugby tournament in the world. However, as a member of the London Society of Rugby Football Union Referees (LSRFUR), she referees for men, women and children, and she has stepped out as an assistant referee on the hallowed grounds of The Stoop and and Surrey Sports Park. The Gordon’s School A Level student is also in demand for school games!

She grew up on the touchlines of Chobham Rugby Club, watching her younger brother play before donning the red and yellow shirt for the girls when she was eight years old (she still plays for the U18s and women’s team at Chobham!). Her parents joined in the action too, with her mother playing walking rugby and father touch rugby.

Almost two years ago, she took the ‘Take up the Whistle’ course with the LSRFUR, then achieved her Level 2 England Rugby Referees Award (ERRA) qualification.

Since joining the society, she has refereed all sorts of games, from U14 boys to women’s games and now even men’s games, spending her weekends and any available time on the pitch. It’s fair to say that rugby and refereeing have become her passion: “You meet so many people and there are so many opportunities for young match officials”, she enthuses, “I love the rugby culture”.

Studying history, chemistry and Spanish A Levels, with her eye on reading law at university, Natalie is also a senior prefect at Gordon’s and going for her Duke of Edinburgh’s Gold Award, as well as learning to drive.

Her father currently acts as her chauffeur to games and society meetings, in addition he deals with her match official administration. Being a Young Match Official (YMO) also means that she has a referee mentor covering every game she is officiating, to provide feedback and advice. When she’s away from the pitch she’s watching games, playing and learning the intricacies of the laws of rugby.

She is just one of a few girls in the London Society of Rugby Football Union Referees but is very positive about her membership: “When I first joined it did feel a bit of a boys’ club of grey haired men over the age of 50 but you just have to stand up for yourself. There’s a community of girls and women in the Society – we’re still working on getting girls’ kit as the current kit is tailored to men so shorts are never in the smaller sizes!

“Katrina Ham runs the LSRFUR YMO programme in the South West region and has been such an amazing advocate for female YMOs within the society. She’s been working relentlessly to find the right games for me, to provide the right level of challenge to enable me to progress.”

Describing her role, she says: “There are so many things that can happen in rugby. You have to be constantly in the play, in the middle of it. You have to make sure you are in the right position while also watching the ball and the players behind your back. Lots to think about”.

As to what qualities are important for refereeing the game, Natalie said: “Most important would be confidence. Refereeing is all about selling the decisions you are making and attention to detail, knowing every single law inside out”.

As to whether she will take her talent further, she quickly retorts “Definitely! There are so many people fighting in my corner. I didn’t even realise. At Rosslyn Park I met Andrew Small, the RFU Match Official Development Officer, who heads the referee career pathway for England Rugby, I found out that someone within the society had told him to come and find me at Rosslyn to have a look at what I was doing and recommend pathways. You don’t even realise that people are putting in a good word. It’s so lovely.”

She continued: “If you are a girl that loves rugby and is looking for leadership opportunities, it’s perfect!”