Making it to the top of the pile in your chosen career is always an impressive achievement for anyone, but when you take into account the fact that you are a female in a massively dominated male arena and you still succeed it takes on a whole new level of impressive!
Clare Daniels certainly has the credentials to say she has made it in the world of Rugby. She is a History Making Female Referee having become the first of her gender to be appointed as Assistant Referee in an Aviva Premiership rugby match in 2016.
Couple this with the fact that she is also the most capped Female Test Referee in history and you start to understand why she commands the respect of her peers. But it wasn’t always that way……
Rugby Monthly caught up with Clare recently to ask about her humble beginnings, the barriers she had to overcome, her aspirations and her achievements so far. “To be honest I never wanted to be a referee! I was playing rugby for Tor RFC in Somerset and we always struggled for a ref on Sunday afternoons. It would usually be the coach who ended up doing it but one week we had nobody available”.
Clare laughs as she continues “I was a scrum half and like most wearing the 9 shirt I guess I was pretty opinionated. One of my team mates persuaded me to take on the whistle and I guess I never looked back.
“After that day I was encouraged by the Somerset Referee Society to have another go. They were, and always have been, hugely supportive to me and I am very grateful to them”.
Her first official appointment was not one that she enjoyed. It was North Petherton 3rds v Ivel Barbarians 3rds in Somerset. She continues “It wasn’t that it was a tough game or that the players weren’t supportive, I just remember thinking that I hadn’t done well and it wasn’t for me.
“The very first scrum the packs went down and both front rows looked up at me for guidance asking “what happens now then ref?” I totally forgot what I had to tell them! After the game I was chatting with the players and one asked me how long I had been a ref…..”80 minutes” was my reply! They were very positive about my performance though and I realised that I was no way as bad as I thought I had been”.
Thankfully for Clare the future games she took charge of became easier and she received great support from players and spectators alike. She continued “Rugby people are inherently good people.
I didn’t become a referee because I desperately wanted to officiate, I did it because I absolutely love the game! What you do has to be rewarding and enjoyable to stay involved and I’m still here to this day. I guess I have been very lucky in that I haven’t really come across too much prejudice or barriers because I am a female ref, the only real issues I have faced are some people’s attitudes…and I can’t change that. I can’t keep worrying about what other people think of me being a female referee, all I can do is work hard on and off the pitch to be the best I can be”.
Her absolute passion for the game is evident as we continue talking and discussing how perceptions of her have changed “Having been in the game for some years now and gaining experience all the time I genuinely believe that players and spectators today see me as a Referee first and not a female referee. Gender is not an issue.
If I make a mistake now during a game (hopefully I don’t!) then I have made it as a referee in the eyes of the players and not because I’m a woman. I hope that one day it will be the norm for women and girls to officiate.
We are woefully lacking in numbers of women and girls in the game. With the recent success of the England Women and the profile of the game being raised all the time we are seeing more female involvement but we need more all the time. It is a fantastic game to be involved in and the RFU are doing some sterling work with on-going projects like Inner Warrior.”
These days Clare is employed full time by the RFU as Match Official Development Officer for the South West and her role sees her responsible for recruitment, training and development of new referees.
“I work very closely with lots of refereeing societies and each of them have schemes in place to encourage new guys to stay involved. There is a definite structure and pathway and my role is to develop, monitor and coach these guys and not assess them. They don’t need assessment they need pastoral care and support to encourage their long term involvement in refereeing. I also have to make sure that I am constantly up to speed with the game in terms of law changes, trends and new directives. I may not sometimes agree with new law changes but as a referee I have to implement them!”
She looks back with immense pride on where her career has taken her from such humble beginnings “I never could have believed that I would be here today working for the RFU and being a Referee Selector for World Rugby 7’s after starting all those years ago at Tor RFC. It really is amazing!
“Rugby is a great game to be involved in at any level as it builds character and develops people of all ages and abilities. I am very grateful to be where I am today and still involved but I never take it for granted. Ultimately I still want to referee a Premiership game and I still think that is achievable, but it’s in my hands.
“However, I still get phone calls from local clubs asking me to step in at the last minute to ref a game….and I absolutely jump at the chance!”
That pretty much sums up Clare Daniels. She has overcome early prejudice and negative attitudes to reach the top of her profession through hard work, dedication and passion….but still has her feet firmly on the ground and will never forget her roots! We wish her continued success for many years to come.