Female referee makes Southland history

ENGAGE BOYS: Cassie Watt keeps a watchful eye over the Collegiate and Blues front rows.
ENGAGE BOYS: Cassie Watt keeps a watchful eye over the Collegiate and Blues front rows.

Tisbury Primary schoolteacher Cassie Watt is poised to make Southland rugby history at Wilsons Crossing today.

The 24-year-old will become the first woman to referee a senior men's final in the province when she controls the Southland-wide division two Plate decider between Central Pirates Star and Waiau Star, Rugby Southland referee education officer Kirk Rae told the Times.

Rugby Southland officials and veteran rugby followers were hard pressed to recall a woman anywhere in New Zealand having officiated in a men's final, Rae said.

"My first men's final will be the biggest achievement of my career and I am looking forward to the challenge," Watt said.

She said men had been "surprisingly receptive" to a woman refereeing their games.

Her appointment had been well received by rugby followers and it only remained for a fine day to put the icing on the cake.

Watt began her career with Rugby Southland in 2009, firstly refereeing primary schoolboys and progressing through the ranks.

She began officiating in men's senior club games last season and said Barry Simmonds and Tony Kelly were her main Rugby Southland mentors when she started.

"I have always had a good team behind me with Mike Mannix, Kirk Rae and Paul Trainor and others who have also helped me greatly along the way."

Men and boys had always been respectful and helpful to her, especially on one "particularly embarrassing occasion."

"I remember an under-18 boys' game at Surrey Park three years ago between Pirates Old Boys and Drummond Limehills Star when I was sprinting to keep up with a runaway try scorer.

"Cramp hit one of my calf muscles but I pressed on until the other leg was affected too and I went down and did not see the runaway try scored. I was immobilised and blew the whistle to signal a five-metre scrum," she said.

Fortunately the boys offered to help her when they appreciated what had happened.

Watt quickly recovered and ran the touchline later for a senior game.

Her love of rugby was forged as a player for two years at James Hargest High School.

She will always be grateful to Ryan Duffy, then a prominent referee and a workmate at Da Vinci's Pizzeria in Invercargill, for encouraging her to try out as a rugby referee by contacting Rugby Southland referee education officer Tony Kelly.

"I have had no problems and lots of support from within Rugby Southland ... I don't regret giving it a go, in fact I wouldn't have changed it for the world."

The Southland Times