Having spent many of his rugby playing years as a poacher, Neil Mitchell has taken his first steps towards becoming a game-keeper and qualifying as a referee.
The Stourbridge director of rugby committed several hours of his summer, a time when key members of his squad were leaving and replacements were harder than ever to come by, trying to fathom the unfathomable that is an official’s mind.
While he is keen to emphasise the point he has no intention in making a permanent switch to the role, the former Moseley and Coventry lock is fervent in his belief that his counterparts at other clubs would benefit from a greater understanding of the pressures imposed on the man in the middle.
“With the communications system we have in National One you can hear the referee’s thought process post-match but I thought it would be interesting to get a greater understanding of the rationale they use when they make decisions,” Mitchell said.
“It was very revealing and while as coaches we all get information about how referees are going to interpret new laws and directives, it’s not the same as actually being taken through it by the refs themselves.
“It has not changed my perception of some referees, which is that officials should be organised into five or six regionally based units rather than having three guys who’ve never worked together before turn up on a Saturday.
“But I would recommend it for other coaches because it gives you an all-round view of the sport and when you speak to a referee after a match you can do so with a bit more authority.”
However, even though Mitchell is now a member of the North Midlands Society of Rugby Football Referees, work remains to be done to become a fully fledged whistle blower.
“To properly qualify you have to referee six games over the next two years and I am not sure I will have the time. But I don’t mind doing the odd Sevens match or perhaps a ladies game, it’s been very useful.”