Inside a Hong Kong referee’s strict Rugby World Cup regimen
Hong Kong Rugby Union representative Tim Baker on how he plans to keep pace with the fast and furious action at the Women’s Rugby World Cup in Dublin
Less than 50 days out from the Women’s Rugby World Cup in Dublin and I find myself down in New Zealand.
Here I am refereeing the Women’s Super Series with the four best teams in the world – England, New Zealand, Australia, and Canada.
No one could ask for better preparation than that before making their debut appearance at a Rugby World Cup.
The Super Series is my chance to continue adapting to the women’s game and to try out a few positional things on the pitch before the main course starts in August.
Being selected to represent the Hong Kong Rugby Union (HKRU) at the Rugby World Cup is a huge thrill and a huge opportunity in terms of my professional development.
My appointment shows the hard work we are putting into refereeing in Hong Kong is really paying off.
With the Hong Kong Women’s national team also qualifying for the world championship, I am very proud I will be a member of a large contingent carrying the Hong Kong flag with pride, and am hugely excited at what the tournament will bring for Hong Kong rugby.
This is by far the highest level at which I have ever refereed. Having officiated a few Women’s Six Nations matches already this year, I know for sure on the pitch there will be as much skilful and committed rugby as the men’s game.
The women’s game has grown so much in the last few years. The skill levels are higher and the players are faster and stronger. That means the match officials also need to be fitter, stronger and faster.
With that in mind, these final weeks before August 9 are another opportunity for me to ramp up my preparations.
After returning to Hong Kong later this week, I will start a four-week training block that will hopefully have me in peak condition on the field.
Alongside that conditioning work, I will be working off-field with my coach Hugh Watkins, the national referee development manager at the HKRU, to continue reviewing and adjusting minor things from my performances back in New Zealand.
Being able to draw on Hugh’s experience is like gold to me. His support has been invaluable, both on and off the pitch.
This review process will help me achieve my personal goal of being the most prepared referee at the tournament. That preparation will prove vital in the moment as everyone expects the atmosphere to be heaving.
Earlier this year when I refereed the Women’s Six Nations in France, the crowd was so passionate and their game knowledge was amazing.
They ride on every decision – and let you know it – singing, yelling and cheering. I’m sure it will reach even another level come World Cup time.
I also feel the pressure of serving the players well. This is the highest level these players will ever play so that demands I be at my best.
After arriving in Dublin, I will head straight into a three-day referee camp, where we will come together as a group for the first time since the Six Nations in February.
As a group, we will review and discuss the major talking points that came out of the Six Nations and the Super Series in New Zealand.
Dublin is going to the biggest World Cup so far, with many matches sold out already. And making sure that I perform to the highest of my ability will enhance my selection opportunities further down the line.
Refereeing test match rugby remains my ultimate goal and with Japan hosting the 2019 Rugby World Cup there could be more opportunities in the future, with teams coming into Japan to play prior to the World Cup.
I take very seriously the honour of being the first ever match official from Asia selected to referee at a Rugby World Cup, and hope my performance in Ireland can help position me for Japan in two years’ time.
All I have to do is maintain my focus, and gain more experience on the international stage.
This is my chance to show the world hard work can pay off ... after all, it’s not every day that you get to referee at a major tournament like a World Cup.
But for me, the hard work is just beginning.