It’s been a long while since Scotland supplied a Six Nations referee, 17 years to be exact since Rob Dickson blew Ireland versus Italy in 2002, but that will all change on 17 March when Hollie Davidson takes charge of Wales women versus their Irish counterparts at the Cardiff Arms Park on the final weekend of the championship. This will be Davidson’s second crack at the big time, as she explains.
“It’s going to be amazing,” says Scotland’s only full-time female referee. “I was appointed to a [Six Nations] game last year which I unfortunately couldn’t do because of injury, so to finally get a second chance is going to be great. Hopefully it will be a really good match, really tight, so yeah, looking forward to it.
“Hopefully it will be a really good atmosphere. It’s the last weekend of the Six Nations and if things go well for both teams it should be quite tight. I can’t wait, you are always going to get challenged in these fixtures, the Six Nations is growing and there’s a lot more coverage for the women’s game so if it’s a good spectacle well, I guess that’s a success for the competition and for us as match officials.”
Davidson was a player, a talkative scrum-half, an age grade international who turned out for Murrayfield Wanderers until a problematic shoulder – it would dislocate at the mere thought of contact – ended her playing career prematurely. The last injury occurred one week before Davidson was due to make her full international debut, a tough pill to swallow. She soldiered on for another year but finally threw in the towel after a last operation to stabilise the joint in her final year at university. So what drew her to officiating?
“It was a completely different challenge,” says Davidson. “There was a perception, and I had it as a player, that refereeing is quite simple but the more refereeing that you do, that perception definitely changes. It was something to keep me within rugby, it’s still physically demanding and I wanted to try and steer forward in both the men’s and women’s game so I picked it up. I went along to my first level one course and took it from there.”
The whistleblower says that 95 per cent of her domestic matches are men’s games but she only refs women in the international arena, be it sevens or 15s. So Davidson is perfectly placed to comment on the differences between the rugby played by the different sexes.
“The main difference is that, in a men’s game you know the outcome going into a ruck. If someone is in a really good position over the ball it’s going to be a turnover or a holding-on penalty. In the women’s game it’s a lot more back and forth at the breakdown,”she says.
“In the women’s game they stick to the laws, there is not so much cheating… well, I wouldn’t say cheating but borderline playing the laws. I think the longer that women play rugby that will probably come into the women’s game. I think it [women’s rugby] is still in an infant stage and as you play more and more and get to full grips with the law that is how you can play on the line.”
Davidson is challenging Mike Adamson for the title of Scotland’s best ref. Like Adamson, the 26-year-old Aboyne native is already a regular on the sevens circuit where her conditioning is an asset, and Davidson earned 15-a-side international recognition last autumn, taking charge of Wales v Hong Kong and England v USA. She must have impressed to have been given the top billing in Europe’s premier competition.
“Players from the winning team probably think I did OK,” Davidson replies, “people from the losing team… there are always going to be peaks and troughs. I’ll just ride those waves.”
I can’t let her go without asking the question that has been bothering me throughout the interview. Has she ever come across the bare-faced sexism of the type that was commonplace a generation ago?
“Touch wood, so far I have not encountered any,” she says. “The only thing is I always get mistaken for the physio when I turn up.”