Senegal match official Sylvain Mane, 28, says it was “a dream” to referee at the recent World Rugby U20 Trophy in Nairobi, Kenya.

Mane took charge of two matches – Scotland’s 40-13 pool win over the USA and Zimbabwe’s impressive 64-10 victory over Kenya in the fifth-place play-off – as he continues his ascent up the refereeing ladder.

A convert from football, Mane was encouraged to take up rugby at the age of 14 by his friend Lahad Diop and he began playing, and refereeing, at the House of Rugby, a social project designed a give youngsters a helping hand as well as introducing them to the sport.

“I had always loved football before but when I came to rugby I saw in this sport what I had not seen in other sports, people living by certain values. It became my favourite sport.”

After leaving the Dakar-based House of Rugby, Mane joined Panthers RFC and eventually made it into the senior side, winning several domestic titles with them.

A typical openside flanker in that he always knew how to push the boundaries of the laws, it was through questioning a particular refereeing decision that prompted him to go down the refereeing path.

“I first came to rugby in 2009 and I started refereeing in 2010,” he said.

“The (Senegalese Rugby) Federation asked each club to put players forward to be considered for the refereeing teams and my coach Papis Mavpris suggested I do it.

“I got a three-month penalty (suspension) from playing after I had yelled at a referee. This pushed me to focus a lot on refereeing because I knew I was right about the decision I had questioned.

“I have got to the level I have today because the Federation quickly detected my talent and helped me so that I can progress in my refereeing career.

“As part of my development, I also went on a one-month internship programme in South Africa, which was organised by Rugby Africa.”

Living his passion

Mane now lives in France, in the heart of rugby country, in a south-west town called Souillac, where he works for an aluminum manufacturer specialising in perfume caps and stoppers.

Ultimately, Mane would love to become a full-time referee and follow in the footsteps of his “idol”, Jérôme Garcès in making it to the top.

Currently, he is officiating in the Nationale Leagues and is affiliated with the Cahors club in the Occitanie Region.

Next season, a referee coach has been assigned to work with him, and together with the lessons he learned at the U20 Trophy, it is hoped that his progress will continue to accelerate.

“I went to France to live my passion and to improve.

“For the moment I am in the Nationale Leagues. It’s my dream to go in Pro D2 and the Top 14 but I have only just arrived in France, I did just one season, so I must not skip the stages and get ahead of myself.”

Refereeing at the U20 Trophy though has given Mane a taste for international refereeing beyond what he has experienced already – five tests, including Namibia v Burkina Faso in the regional RWC 2023 qualifiers and the 2022 U20 Barthes Trophy.

“It was really a dream to become a World Rugby referee. The day I got the call, I didn’t believe it, I danced in my room.

“I learned a lot at the tournament, especially at the end when I refereed Zimbabwe v Kenya.”

Mane has not only been inspired by Garcès and top South African sevens official, Rasta Rasivhenge but also Precious Pazani, who was also on the panel at the U20 Trophy and became the first woman to officiate at the tournament in its 15-year history when she took charge of Spain’s round one win over Hong Kong China.

“Today, me and Precious have shown African referees what is possible if you work hard and be patient.

“Precious is more than a sister to me; she deserves to be there and she is a source of inspiration for us all.”