The Offload: Barrett-Theron makes an impression on URC debut

AIL to take on more importance; Barnes puts water carrier in his place and more

Aimee Barrett-Theron during the United Rugby Championship match between Benetton and Ospreys at the Monigo stadium. Photo: Mattia Radoni/LiveMedia/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Aimee Barrett-Theron became the first South African female referee to take charge of a United Rugby Championship match when she presided over Ospreys’ 29-26 victory over Benetton at the Stadio Comunale di Monigo.

She proved that not only was she a very capable referee but that she had a sense of humour in dealing with the players, prompting commentator Mark Robson to dub her as the ‘new Nigel Owens.’ Following a bout of pushing between players just before the interval she remarked: “I’ve come all this way to referee rugby, not be a childminder. You’ve got 10 minutes to sort it out.”

On another occasion she said to Benetton outhalf Rhyno Smith, who got a second chance to kick a penalty to touch after the intervention of the television match official, “I think you can kick it further than that. What do you think?” She coped admirably with a match that contained some niggle.

Barrett-Theron, a former Sevens and 15s South African international, follows in the footsteps of Ireland’s Joy Neville and Hollie Davidson (Scotland) who took charge of matches in a previous incarnation of the tournament. The South African took up refereeing in 2014 and quickly demonstrated her proficiency.


The biokineticist officiated at the Rio Olympics (2016) and later that year was named on South Africa’s national B panel, the first woman to be recognised in that capacity. She officiated at the 2017 Women’s World Cup and also in the Women’s Six Nations Championship. She has refereed 18 Women’s Test matches and seven senior men’s games after the weekend’s 80 minutes in Italy.

One of her stated ambitions is to be seen “not as a female referee, just as a referee and a servant to the game.” She also said when asked why she took up the whistle: “I was looking for a new challenge and wanted to stay involved in the game that I love. I also wanted to give back to the sport that gave me so many opportunities and allowed me to travel the world.”

AIL to take on more importance

The role of the All Ireland League in the development of young players has been an important conduit to the professional game, a state of affairs that will have greater significance and importance this season as the provincial coaches look to guarantee game time to their extended squads.

The fact that the United Rugby Championship will this season take a break for the first time during the November Test series means that there is less opportunity for academy and fringe players to get opportunities to shine. This means that the primary playing outlet for many of those players will be in the All Ireland League, a fact acknowledged by Leinster coach Leo Cullen.

He said: “The AIL is going to be important. A couple of guys went back and played this week. It’s really, really important. I have enjoyed watching it. Some of those games when I get them sent through to me, it’s really positive seeing some of our lads playing. The standard has been good, I have been pretty impressed.”

Secondrow Jack Dunne made his return following an ankle injury in Trinity colours over the weekend while others like Leinster academy players Rob Russell and Liam Turner also played in the college’s 19-13 victory over Ballynahinch.

Munster’s Alex Kendellen was part of the UCC team that lost to a Lansdowne side containing Cormac Foley (Leinster) while Jack Crowley and Sean French (both Munster) lined out for Cork Con beaten 31-24 at Castle Avenue by a Clontarf team that included Leinster provincial academy players David Hawkshaw, Brian Deeny, Cormac Daly (Connacht), Martin Moloney and Vakh Abdaladze.

Cullen added: “We have an ‘A’ game scheduled, so that’s one game that is there. Some fringe guys will get some minutes there. Hopefully there is a good chunk of guys in the national squad, so they will be gone anyway.

“Then it’s just an opportunity for certain guys to refresh, recharge, like a mini pre-season as such as well because it is a long season. Guys will get opportunities at different stages. It’s slightly different to what we have had in the past, but it is what it is. There will be other positives in there.”

Word of mouth

“At the end of last year we got the better of them at Scotstoun so I’d imagine they are coming here looking for a big win. We know what’s coming and we’ll have to be at our best to beat the best.” - Glasgow defence coach Kenny Murray looks ahead to Friday’s game against Leinster.

By the numbers

93: Points conceded by the Scarlets in their last two matches against Munster and Leinster underlining the size of the task that new defence coach Hugh Hogan - formerly of High School, St Mary’s College and Leinster’s breakdown and contact guru before taking up his new position - faces. Everything that Hogan’s done in rugby as a coach suggests that he will find a way to improve the collective shortcomings.

Barnes puts water carrier in his place

Referee Wayne Barnes was forced to send off an unidentified Wasps water carrier who provoked a bit of a shemozzle during their English Premiership game against Exeter Chiefs. After Exeter were awarded a penalty close to the Wasps try line, Henry Slade went to get the ball but it was nudged away by a water carrier from the home side standing in the in-goal area.

Needless to say it didn’t go down well with England international secondrow Jonny Hill joining Slade and the water carrier who were grappling with each other. Several players from both sides got involved in pushing and shoving before Barnes managed to restore order.

Taking the advice of the TMO who explained what had started the incident, Barnes said: “That water carrier over there does not come back on the pitch.”

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer