She’s the boss Lusanda really knows how to blow the whistle
“WHAT do you know about rugby?”
That’s the most common comment referee Lusanda Mtiya, 35, gets from coaches, players and spectators when she’s on the field.
But former Springbok Mitya, the first female rugby referee in KwaZulu-Natal, says the critical requirements for a ref is to have a deep understanding of the laws of the game, be mentally tough and to maintain a high level of fitness.
And she has all three in spades.
“There are also players who try testing my knowledge of the law during a match as well. They will question me on points which they would never ask of a male referee.
“But I have the support of other referees who I have been learning from, as well as learning about sideline management,” she said.
Mtiya, who grew up in the Eastern Cape, also has extensive experience as a player, having started her career as a female rugby player where her versatility saw her playing as a utility back, centre, wing and fullback.
Once her schooling was completed, she came to Durban to attend the University of KwaZulu- Natal where she completed a degree in sports science. “I started playing at school for fun and when I went to university, they did not have athletics, so I played rugby.
“I went into refereeing in 2006 when I was playing at provincial level.
“I couldn’t be a referee and a player, so I gave up refereeing for a while because I wanted to make it into the national team.
“My goal was to play just one match for the Springbok women’s team, but I ended up playing eight matches in total,” said Mtiya.
After playing for the Boks between 2011 and 2013, Mtiya went back to refereeing.
“I started doing it for fun, but then I started taking it seriously and doing training courses. For referees, with new law variations, upskilling is an ongoing process.”
For the first two years, she refereed locally, including at Craven Week, before going to her first provincial tournament in Port Elizabeth.
She remembers the excitement of her first premier division game in May this year, when a referee was injured and she was called in as a replacement.
“It was Toti versus Varsity College and at first-team club level it was an eye-opener for me. After that match, I felt I could ref any game,” she said.
She currently referees women’s provincial matches, will run touch in men’s provincial matches, and referees men’s and women’s club games. She works for KZN Women’s Rugby where she handles women’s rugby in the province. “Gene r a l l y, women are not contracted, so they tend to play for fun, while with men it is often more about winning. “In KwaZulu-Natal, we have more than 300 ladies who play club rugby and in the under-16 and under18 age groups combined, there are more than 1 000 players.” And as all referees know, a tough exterior shell needs to be developed against abuse from coaches, players and spectators.
“I had one particularly bad match where I wanted to give it all up,” she said. But by the time she got home, she had resolved not to let one match change her path.
“You have to be tough mentally, you are alone on the field.
“When I’m asked ‘what do you know about the game?’, I reply, ‘I do know I will be refereeing the game.’
“If you have played rugby and then refereed, you have the advantage in that you recognise game dynamics,” she said.
To keep fit, she runs twice a week as well as doing a lot of speed work three times a week. Mtiya referees one or two matches a week. While she tries to maintain a healthy diet, she does indulge her sweet tooth every so often.
“I have to travel a lot which I really enjoy.
“I like meeting different people and seeing the different stadiums. On Wednesday, I reffed a women’s game between the Pumas and Limpopo and it was the first time I had been to Mbombela Stadium.”
For any match, she prepares ahead, watching videos of previous games and liaises with other referees.
“You have to be prepared for whatever may happen on the field. Before a game I get mixed emotions, while before and after each game, I pray. As the ref, you have to keep your composure when there’s ill-discipline on the field,” she said.
When she’s not on the field, Mtiya spends time watching rugby and athletics, or reading about rugby and athletics.
Today, Mtiya will referee the under-20 UKZN versus Rovers match.
Lusanda Mtiya is the first black female rugby referee.