- Veteran referee Andrew Small to retire on Saturday
- Small looks back on his 23-year career
- Get tickets to Saturday's Aviva Premiership final here
From the heart of a Russian military air force base to the glamorous coasts of Dubai, the 23 year career of full time referee Andrew Small will come to an end this weekend.
Small will be the fifth official for Saturday’s Premiership final between Saracens and Exeter Chiefs at Twickenham which will be his final game before continuing his teaching career at Grove Independent School in Milton Keynes.
“I think it’ll hit me the most the first game of next season when the boys are out there doing their thing and I’m not.”
“To celebrate we’ll probably just have a glass of wine in the changing room but we had a proper do after my last training session.”
Every player has their good and bad days on the pitch, the same goes for match officials and Small remembers one match between the Ospreys and Australia in 2006 as being a particularly special moment in his career.
“It was one of the my first appointments outside of England as an RFU referee and by the time I turned up the place was already absolutely rammed. The stadium was sold out and the atmosphere was incredible.
“I remember the Ospreys scoring a winning try at the end of the game and the noise was just unbelievable. I sat down in the changing rooms afterwards and just thought ‘have I actually just done that?’. That match kick-started my career.”
In contrast to his first big match, there are some he wishes he could forget.
“It was my third Premiership game between Bristol and Newcastle and there were a series of scrums on the five metre line to Bristol. Newcastle were winning and I gave a penalty try, but as it happens the ball wasn’t even in the scrum.
“From the get go it was an absolute shambles. I had to walk off with the Newcastle players afterwards. Even now 12 years later I still get a ribbing about that game.”
Despite being born in New Zealand, Small was given the opportunity to officiate the All Blacks prior to the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
“I actually ran touch for the All Blacks which was pretty cool as well, it was a little bit odd. There was a close call for me to make and we used the TMO, it was one of those decisions that bailed me out because I actually thought the All Black had dropped it but I got away with it.”
'ARE YOU WEARING THOSE FOR A BET?’
In 2014 during his 101st Premiership match Small was involved in an amusing interaction with England and Harlequins prop Joe Marler.
“That was quite funny really, I didn’t realise it had been picked up on the mic and BT Sport ran it on their Monday night show. Joe and I still have a joke about that now and I know he was wearing white boots this season.
“It’s good that you can have that interaction with players like Joe and I think those moments are brilliant for the game.”
Another story in Small’s archive of tales was earlier in that same season when a charged-down box kick hit him square in the face.
“Ah yeah it got me right in the face. It was freezing cold that day too I remember it. One of the Northampton boys, I think it was Dylan Hartley, told me to stay on my feet. I was never going to fall over it just really hurt.
“It was cold and miserable and then the physio ran on and I said I was alright but it bloomin hurt I tell you.
“I got taken into a ruck as well in a game between Leinster and Glasgow, that was quite funny, I ended up being upside down in a ruck which is never a good place to be.”
LIVING THE DREAM
When he was not getting hit in the face on a cold, wet evening at Twickenham Stoop, Small’s career as an international referee has been glamorous to say the least.
He has travelled all around the world covering everything from the Pacific Nations Cup, Churchill Cup in USA/Canada, Nations Cup in Romania, Tri Nations, RBS 6 Nations, Argentine Super League, Italian Super League and has made over 50 refereeing appearances in the HSBC World Sevens Series.
“I’ve also refereed on a Russian Air force base which was pretty cool. We used to do Russian Super League games on exchange back in the day and there was constantly some kind of Soviet or Russian aircraft taking off in the background which was pretty cool.
“Basically I just went where the ticket said and where I was told.”
During his 14 years with the RFU, Small has refereed more than 120 Premiership matches and there are a few players that he has grown to admire.
“Dylan Hartley’s a good bloke and a decent guy. I think he’s done amazingly well and I’ve got a lot of time for him, he’s someone I’d like to go for a beer with, definitely.
“The Premiership is the hardest competition in the world to referee because the teams are so similar in their approach, the crowds are quite close to you and there are the notorious rivalries in English rugby. They’re probably some of my proudest moments coming off those pitches.”
If you want to be at the world’s biggest club rugby final, this year’s Aviva Premiership Rugby Final on Saturday 28 May at Twickenham, tickets are available from premiershiprugby.com/final
If you are interested in refereeing, then visit our referees webpage to find out how to get involved.