It all started with a hiss and a roar. Getting to the airport amped to be heading over to Samoa to referee at their 32nd Vailima Marist 7s. All to be stopped at the check-in desk because our tickets had been canned. I have never felt more stressed about flying (or not flying) in my life. Luckily I had very organised company with me with minutes to spare for international calls to ruffle the feathers of those bringing us over to their beautiful country. 15 minutes before check-in closed and a hot drink later, we had tickets and boarding passes with our bags on their way out to the plane.
Once in Samoa the Marist men treated us like absolute royalty, which was appreciated on so many levels as referee in many clubs and countries are seen more as the added extra to the sport I feel, like a necessary evil. These men saw us for what/who we were… 4 people with a passion for the game that ran as deep as theirs and they needed us as much as we needed them in order for the tournament to be a success. These guys drove us everywhere, occasionally running on the ever expected island time but always made sure we were looked after and where we needed to be. It was kind of like amazing race though in a way, being kept in the dark about the days events until you got to the next one where they would give you a clue and a pick up time of the next event or meal or meeting. They forever laughed at my jokes, no matter how lame (sometimes I even wonder if they understood what I was saying so laughed anyway!) and they always greeted us with joy and smiles and send us off with hand shakes and hugs. We could not have felt more welcome in their club and country because of their hospitality and appreciation. Their ability to bring a community together through sports was also admirable. As although rugby and the tournament was to grow their team and the game and all of the normal stuff, it was also there to bring their community together, bring in income for the surrounding people and businesses and grow the people within it to become better and healthier. The power of these men within their community was huge and to be a part of that was an absolute honour.
The tournament itself was epically long. Each day going from sunrise to sunset, stretching out to be around 12-13 hour days. Some big shifts were put in not only by us but by their local referees. In NZ we struggle to get enough referees for local club tournaments, not always having ARs for games and definitely not having in goals unless it’s a final yet in such a small country their referees made sure almost every game had ARs and in goals. It was an incredible feat. Especially in the weather mother nature provided. Honestly, I never realised how much it could rain in Samoa. It pelted down during the second day and had occasional rain on the first but the humidity level was through the roof. My hair turned into a ‘fro so much that Ben said I looked like a crown prosecutor with their funny wig on! The field got ripped up and it was like running around in an extra warm swimming pool. You never knew if you were drenched from sweat or from the rain. That added to the challenges of the days as running with splats of mud on your face, trying not to get it on my contacts was quite the mission, all the while trying to focus on the game and getting through the soft inner part of the field as the boys sprinted around the outside in the greener parts of the field!
With rain and sweat dripping down my face as I refereed the Women’s final I felt a weird sense of comfort in this foreign country. Everything fit into place, the game made sense and the girls got to play some good rugby. I made decisions that were relevant to the game and it just seemed to click and that I feel is such a special moment to experience as a referee. That flow state, everything happening but it feels like you’re doing nothing at all. I feel like having a team of referees who wanted to be there to support us really helped, and having the Marist guys backing us was also a blessing. However, I feel like it was mostly the fact that I had become comfortable in myself, the game and the pressure that I could function in the most efficient and effective way possible. That was one of the biggest gifts this tournament gave to me. Along with learning a bit of strength in communication, as the Samoan boys I felt saw me as inferior, I believe due to size and gender, so I had to be confident in myself and strong in my comms in order to gain and maintain respect. Its definitely something I’ll be keeping in my toolbox for future occasions.
Lastly, this tournament taught me a lot about the ability for refereeing to create some seriously strong connections and relationships. From the people I went with, who I will forever be playing brocciflower-zeebat-shit with and rolling the red carpet out for, to the girls who made me look real white girl while we danced together, to the Marist men who made me laugh and appreciated me/us, to the man by my side who always drives me to be a better referee and person. All of these relationships grew and/or blossomed because of this experience and that is something so special about rugby.
Until next time Beautiful Samoa.