“She is a student of the game who knows it inside out”: The refereeing rise of Hollie Davidson

Hollie Davidson, centre, pictured at a charity match in 2019
©Rugby People

One of the really pleasing things to witness in Scottish rugby over the last few years has been the emergence of an exciting group of officials led by the likes of Mike Adamson, Sam Grove-White, Ben Blain and Hollie Davidson.

Davidson should have been making the short trip south from Edinburgh to Newcastle this weekend to referee her first-ever men’s professional match.

She was due to be in charge of Newcastle Falcons' European Challenge Cup clash against Castres at Kingston Park on Saturday, but the competition has been suspended for now.

Before the Newcastle-Castres match was postponed, Andrew Macpherson, the referee development manager at Scottish Rugby, said: “I would like to extend my congratulations to Hollie on the appointment to her first professional men’s fixture. It is fantastic to see her hard work recognised and she thoroughly deserves this opportunity.”

When she Davidson eventually gets the chance to officiate in the competition, she will follow in the footsteps of Joy Neville while Sara Cox will also soon be on duty in the same tournament.
The rise of female officials is great to see, so why has Davidson - a former Scotland squad member as a player who just missed out on a cap due to injury - done so well since taking up the whistle in 2015?

“She is a student of the game who knows it inside out,” Davidson’s friend and former coach Claire Cruikshank told TRU.

“I first met Hollie when I was helping out with coaching the under-18s regional programme, but obviously at the time, I couldn’t have imaged what path her career would take or that she would go into refereeing.

“Then Hollie came to the University of Edinburgh [where Cruikshank is head of performance for ladies’ rugby] to study and I coached her for four years and she was also captain of the first XV for two of those years.

“She was a good player, a little, tenacious scrum-half who knew all the tricks and was often talking to the referee during games so that experience and the position she played probably helped her move so smoothly into officiating.

“Hollie was a skilful player who brought a lot of energy and enthusiasm to the team, but unfortunately she struggled with some injuries and had to have some time out. However, when she was at the uni and involved in rugby here she would always be part of things even when she couldn’t play and that meant that she was seeing the game from a different perspective on the sidelines.

“That will have also helped her and she was always asking questions and finding out more about the game, she was just interested in rugby and everything about it.”

“Clarity and communication are key”

 With rugby’s laws changing all of the time and the game being complex with many different elements, the way that referees communicate with players and coaches has never been more important.

And although she is still in her 20s and diminutive in stature, Davidson certainly has no issues with laying down the law to two sets of hulking front-rows or putting in the hard yards with both skippers.

“Clarity and communication are key when officials are trying to get their message across and I think it is something that Hollie is very good at,” Cruikshank, who combines her work at the University of Edinburgh with her role as the head coach of Sweden Women,” stated.

“Having been a scrum-half and a captain, she knows how to talk to officials and I think in the last few years she has flipped that around really well and it is always clear in what she is asking of the players, although whether they agree with her words is another matter!

“Seriously though, she is a very determined character who gives 100 per cent to everything that she does and it has been brilliant to watch her refereeing journey.

“Another thing which sometimes goes unnoticed is the fitness levels of modern day officials. They cover so much ground over 80 minutes and I know Hollie, Mike, Sam, Ben and others work very hard on that side of things.

“It is disappointing that Hollie won’t get the chance to referee in the Challenge Cup this weekend, but there is no doubt she has an exciting future ahead of her.”

Whistle while you work: From Aboyne to the world stage

Hollie first got involved in playing rugby when they formed a school team in Aboyne in Aberdeenshire. The team did really well and made it to an under-18 final at the national stadium against Murrayfield Wanderers.

From then she was hooked and Hollie has previously said: “I loved the team spirit and the inner determination you required to train in all conditions which often included snow for us.

“I progressed to the regional pathway set-up and then I picked rugby back up at university in Edinburgh which led me to the Scottish Universities Sevens, Murrayfield Wanderers, touring sevens teams, Scotland under-20 and the training squad for Scotland.

“In terms of highlights, well I loved playing against England at under-20 level and winning the BUCS final with the University of Edinburgh.”

After a shoulder injury in the lead up to an international with the Netherlands cruelly snatched away a cap from Davidson’s grasp, she dusted herself down and set new goals. She was working out of rugby when, in late 2015, Scottish Rugby put on a women’s only refereeing course, so Hollie headed along.

“I enjoyed it, so started getting more involved in refereeing around April time [2016] and I was then invited along to do my Level 2 course,” she stated previously.

“I started off doing Scottish tournaments and then was lucky enough to go to a Rugby Europe competition in France. It was the Rugby Europe under-18 Sevens, with USA and Canada special guests, and it was a great tournament and such a high standard.”

From there her love of refereeing grew and, now able to focus on it full-time, she has officiated all over the world - including at women's international level - with lots more to come.

Scotland Fixtures