When Selica Winiata first discussed a potential career in officiating with New Zealand Rugby (NZR) National Referee Manager Bryce Lawrence earlier this year, it was with an eye on the future.

The 33-year-old had contacted Lawrence as she sought a way to make the transition to a non-playing role within rugby as smooth as possible once the time came to retire.

The Rugby World Cup 2017 winner began by refereeing secondary school tournaments while gleaning tips and advice from both Lawrence and his NZR colleague Matt Peters.

Winiata admits she had to retrain her brain in those early matches, primarily so she didn’t tackle an unsuspecting player or take a try-scoring pass, but she clearly demonstrated she was up to the task.

In November, the Black Fern travelled to Fiji to officiate at the Oceania Rugby Women’s Sevens Championship and impressed so much that she was subsequently appointed as a match official for the Dubai and Cape Town rounds of HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2020.

“Last year I kind of considered what would be another pathway for me when I finally decide to give up rugby, and I wasn’t too sure,” Winiata told World Rugby. 

“I want to stay in the game if possible and that’s when I thought about reffing. 

“I thought, well, you could still be out there running around with the teams and it wasn’t until this year that I decided to pick up the whistle and see whether or not it was for me. 

“Things have happened a lot quicker than I expected.”

Learning from the best

Winiata will rub shoulders with some of the best female referees in rugby when she arrives in Dubai in December, and is keen to learn as much as she can from the likes of Sara Cox, Joy Neville and Amy Perrett.

“I’m really excited to have that opportunity to go over there,” said Winiata, who won three world series titles and Rugby World Cup Sevens 2013 with the Black Ferns Sevens.

“I didn’t think I would get on the women’s series for another year at least, so for me I don’t think it’s really going to sink in until I get over there and get my first tournament done because right now you kind of think ‘wow, really? I’m going to Dubai to ref?’

“So, I’m really excited, I’m just really willing to learn off the other more experienced refs that will be there.

“I just want to go over there with an open mind and be open to listening and taking on board the advice that I get because I want players and I want other refs to be able to respect me as a ref. 

“The only way you get that is by listening and ensuring that you start to do the things that are going to help you out on the pitch.”

Winiata knows that she must grasp the opportunity on offer in Dubai and Cape Town with confidence, and suggests that she can “bring the heat” as a current Black Fern.

Combining referee training with her usual routine as a player has not been an issue. 

Making quick decisions

“You look at training as a player, you’ve got to get into the gym, you’ve got to go out and do conditioning and you’ve still got to analyse games to make yourself better,” she said. 

“And it’s really similar as a ref. You’ve still got to manage your conditioning, get into the gym and analyse yourself as a ref. So, I don’t really see it being too different.”

Similarly, Winiata believes her day job, as a police officer, provides advantages for her prospective career with the whistle.

“Being a police officer you deal with a lot of different situations and at times you need to make a decision really quickly. You don’t have time to think about it too much,” she said. 

“That’s what it’s like out on the rugby field, especially in the game of sevens. It’s a very quick game and it’s very critical that as a ref you’re making the right decision but at the right time. 

“So, I think a lot of it does carry over from being a police officer. As a police officer you need good clear communication, and the same as a ref. 

Home Rugby World Cup

“If you can provide that to the players you’re gonna gain more respect from them because they’re going to understand what it is you want from them.”

Winiata has enjoyed a rapid rise from refereeing on school fields to officiating at 7he Sevens Stadium in Dubai, but the full-back is not done with playing just yet.

New Zealand will host Rugby World Cup 2021 and Winiata is determined to be part of the Black Ferns squad that defends the title they won in Ireland two years ago.

“My ultimate goal is to be able to make the World Cup in two years’ time,” she said. 

“[There’s] nothing better than being able to play a World Cup on home soil.

“It’s massive. To be able to host our first ever women’s World Cup here on home soil is something that a lot of teams that have gone before me have been pushing for many years, and to finally now have that is going to be incredible. 

“We know that female rugby in general worldwide is growing and I think it’ll be a great opportunity to help inspire more girls within New Zealand to play the sport.”