She’s the boss Lu­sanda re­ally knows how to blow the whis­tle

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - TANYA WATERWORTH

“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.

PICTURE: ZANELE ZULU

Lu­sanda Mtiya is the first black fe­male rugby ref­eree.

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