An Interview with Referee, Hayden Sarjeant

Hayden Sarjeant is a 42 year old Maintenance Manager with Jaguar Land Rover and father to two boys.  At weekends (and the occasional evening, if required), he’s a Level 6 Referee.  I spent an hour with him this morning and asked him a LOT of questions about being ‘Sir’.

But first, his credentials:  Hayden played rugby from the age of 11 for 25 years.  He was Captain of Old Coventrians RFC 1st XV twice and Club Captain five times. He has also played for Nuneaton and represented Warwickshire at senior level.  This is Hayden’s fourth season as a referee; he no longer plays.  In addition, he’s coached mini rugby at Old Coventrians and holds a Level 1 coaching qualification.

I wanted to ask Hayden for his view on a number of topics that have been raised in the press recently.  I started with concussion.

Hayden states that as a referee, the most important aspect is player safety – that’s what a number of laws are there for.  If, in his opinion, a player is not fit to be on the field, he will not allow them to play on, no matter what the coach, or the player himself, may have to say.  If a Physio assesses the player and deems the player fit to play, Hayden will ensure the onus is on that Physio, saying “You’re happy for him to continue playing?”  However, power of veto is with the referee and safety comes first, whether it’s concussion or any other injury – in fact Warwickshire Society of Referees will be holding specific training, based on the RFUs Headcase Initiative this month.

Choke tackles are a subject of much fierce debate.  Some deem them to be dangerous, whilst others, like Hayden believes they are great and enhance a game – as long as they’re below the shoulder of course.  Players must ensure they go in correctly – Hayden cited the clash of heads between Sexton and Bastauread as an example of a bad choke tackle.  But on the whole, he says “choke tackles are a great way to win the ball back”.

Asking Sarjeant if he believes scrum laws too complicated, leading to too many penalties, he’s very vocal in his response.  He doesn’t believe they’re too complicated – “Players still haven’t adapted to the changes.”  He goes on to say that scrums are there to restart play, but too many teams are using them as a means of winning penalties.  Hayden is very clear before matches start with his instructions to front row players.  He insists on a full bind, ensuring players place their feet to support themselves.  In short, he lays out his expectations before a game and sticks by what he says.  If it means a yellow, that’s what has to happen.

Warwickshire run the Young Whistlers scheme “those young guys know the laws inside out”,  which he fully supports  and mentors the youngsters as much as he can to help them improve their game management and knowledge. He also believes that all coaches should take some kind of referees course, especially when coaching Junior age groups. Not only does this help with a coach’s ability – providing another viewpoint, it also aids player safety.

I asked Hayden what his biggest frustration was: “Players not knowing what colour and number shirt they’re wearing and not listening to the referee. I’m quite vocal when I’m refereeing a game – if they don’t listen to me and get out of a ruck etc when I tell them to, they and their team have to suffer the consequences.”  Another of Hayden’s annoyances is bad language that’s creeping into the game more and more.  Hayden has when needed to, used both colour cards in dealing with this offence. It’s something he will not tolerate.

Hayden says that the Warwickshire Society of Referees has a really good set up.  From pre-season fitness tests, to monthly meetings and travelling with other Society referees when on an exchange (a recent exchange was to Ipswich – a 14 hour day), he says that communications are key and discussions over issues that a referee may have experienced benefit them all.

Communication, whether it’s with the Society, with players, coaches and even spectators are important.  Hayden is happy to discuss his decisions after a match, enjoying food and beer with the teams in their club houses.  He’s insistent that players and their coaches understand the decisions that have been made and the reasons why.

Hayden knows his limitations and works hard to make himself the best referee he can be. He knows his input to the game matters to the players, coaches and spectators and works hard on his fitness all season long.

So, if you play your rugby in Warwickshire and have Hayden refereeing you – listen as he lays out his expectations before the match, listen to him on the pitch and talk to him after the game he is after all like all referees only human and at the level he is refereeing at can’t go upstairs or ask his AR for help on a decision. However he is willing to take on board constructive criticism and learn from it!

Just don’t swear, it won’t be tolerated.

Hayden did mention that this weekend Warwickshire Society of Referees are 11 referees short to cover games. Remember without someone in the middle there is no game. If you are keen to have a go look up Warwickshire Society of Referees, get on a course and get involved!

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