So here we go, the story of that one time I went on a week’s trip to Dubai with not even a week’s notice. Don’t get me wrong, the adventure of an opportunity this surprising is next level, however it would have been nice to be able to prepare myself for the magnitude of this moment so that I could have been the best version of my refereeing self. I did do the best I could in the moment though, and that is all you can ever ask yourself of really. Anyway, take a seat, get comfy and pop some popcorn because it’s story time guys.
The flight itself was more than lengthy, with 19 hours in the air plus transfers and stopover times. The whole way there I was buzzing. I was buzzing about the opportunity, the new experiences, the unknown and the fact that it was my first time travelling alone and it was bigger than your average lone Aussie or Fiji trip, this was Dubai! To be honest I don’t think I slept very much over there, but if I did it must have been with my mouth open catching flies because by the time my 19 hours was up I had a sore throat and a croaky voice (that remained for the WHOLE trip). Why hello laryngitis, what perfect timing you had to walk into my life. Once there I realised I was way out of my depth. The airport was next level huge, and I am so glad that my poor navigating skills stepped up to the challenge and got me to a man holding up a board to welcome me (I know, they actually did that and I was stoked). I got into their little van, travelled through the desert to bum f**k nowhere to our hotel. I was dead.
This, however, was only where my day begun. I woke up my new room-mate, got settled in and was off to breaky within the hour. My first day was just with the female referees, doing a little bit of theory work with one of the mentors prior to being thrown into the deep end in a few days. This was definitely hard work on minimal sleep. The day didn’t stop there though. We then went to the biggest mall I’ve ever seen (there was an ice-skating rink and an aquarium inside!) and went up the Burj Kalifa. All I can say is wow! The view and the building were beautiful and impressive. Thinking there couldn’t possibly be more to enjoy, one of the female referees who lives there, took us to the World 7s Series pre-game get together in one of the fancy hotels in the city. The referees, players and some of our referee team got to experience a sniff of what it was like as a World referee/player out of the tournament days and that was cool in itself.
The day before the tournament, our group of referees (and others I think) had a get together to ensure that we were all on the same page in regards to ruling and logistics before the tournament started. This was followed up by a practical session outside in the beaming desert sun. I believe it gets us all used to the environment we have to function in for the next 3 days, but wholey cow I don’t think I had been that hot before and having to exercise, like ever! The practical session was a whole lot of drills revolved around positioning, and management on game day. An example of this was the speed in which you card a player in 7s. They set us up to run up to one of the coaches who we were to red card, we had to card them and leave as fast as we could, teaching us to get into as little conversation as possible (even when you so wanted to plead your case as to why you carded them when they were arguing with you), so that precious game time wasn’t wasted. There were so many valuable learnings from this day, some that I still use today, and most were used to their full capabilities at the tournament.
Game days. These were super long, with us having to be awake, full and at the fields by about 7.30-8am (can’t remember details), with us leaving each night at like 11pm (after fines sessions of course!). I can say that I have NEVER been a part of so much rugby in 3 days than I did here and it was brutal but amazing all at the same time. I had actually been wearing a small pain in my foot prior to getting to Dubai, that in a normal game or tournament would have survived, but in the amount of game time I had there, it ended up affecting the way I refereed and I was with the physio’s a lot. The games themselves ranged, as we were working in a team of 3 everyday and rotated games. I did some men’s but mainly women’s while there and we would AR before and after (twice per hour/round) as well. There were heaps of coaches there to help out, always giving tips and tricks, analysing and coaching you through your games to ensure we grew over the days and got the most out of their resources. I can’t tell you exactly what games I did as it was a while ago and my memory is slightly fogged with time, but one I remember fondly was an invitational game that I in-goaled for in the stadium. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t the referee or an AR, I loved the opportunity to support the referee with the opportunity to be the one in the middle and getting that buzz from being out there doing what I love where the elite players and referees were getting ready to go. The tournament ended with an awards sort of night, showcasing the talent that they had uncovered and the achievements of the referees who excelled throughout. It was cool to see that referees got noticed and embraced even after the curtain dropped.
Lastly, the fines nights… these resulted in a few people and a few cans of beer (need I say more?) and they embraced the good, bad and ugly of the day in the most comical way possible. My claim to fame at one of these nights was after I led New Zealand to victory over my English counterpart Henry, owning him in a closely fought battle of an arm wrestle. The rematch lacked lustre at the fines night and saw me losing my title, but it didn’t take away from the fact that I bet him and still claim that victory to this day.
Dubai was honestly eye opening to what I could become if I put in the hard mahi, and I am continuing from the end of the tournament until now and as long as I am a referee to strive to prove myself back in Dubai in the tournament or on the Circuit. I love 7’s and it’s open version of the game we love and I want to get there (one day). Dubai had the lushest, most green grass and pristine field’s ever, in the middle of the desert, it blew my mind. I wish I could go back and prove to them and myself that I am the referee they want me to be and that I have taken their learnings along with me on my refereeing journey, using them for good (and not evil :P). This trip taught me more about what opportunities are out there, my need to motivate myself to work harder each day and to embrace all skills provided to you. This place was a dream I got too soon but one I will forever cherish.