Petersham Rugby Past Players – Olly Hodges
One of PRUFC old Club Captains, Olly Hodges has been in touch recently and has shared some insight into his playing career with the Shammies and also what he has been up to recently as an International Ref.
Petersham v Hawkesury Valley Camperdown Oval 1998.
Although a long time ago, I can remember this 1st grade match for the Shammies as clearly as if it was yesterday. It was a horrible wet day, and after having endured a 15 minute delay for a horrendous broken leg to a HV player, the Shammies were behind by a couple of points. We weren’t enjoying the best of seasons, but the final 10 mins of the match presented an opportunity for us to get a rare victory. As we hammered away at the HV line for phase after phase, the rain became even heavier, and “Shammiesbrook” was completely under water. We finally got over the line, and as I was holding the ball firmly on the ground under a pile of what felt like a dozen bodies, I heard what I thought was the shrill blast of the refs whistle confirming a Shammies try. When I got off the ground, I discovered that the ref had actually adjudged the ball as being held up, and blew for full-time!!! I proceeded to give the ref an absolute litany of abuse as we left the field – in hindsight not something I can look back on with a great deal of pride
At full-time on that day, if you’d have told me (or any of my Shammies team-mates in the seasons’ after ’98 for that matter) that I would become a high-level Rugby referee, you would have been checked into a mental home!!!
Having played in the Shammies “glory years” of 1999-2000, winning 2 premierships and the 2000 Div 3 Club Championship and becoming Club Captain in 2001, myself and my wife Emer moved to her home of Limerick/Ireland in June 2002, for what I was assured was for only a couple of years before moving back to Sydney. Needless to say – we are still in Ireland, with the prospect of moving back to Sydney becoming more remote as the years roll on. Having said that, we have a good life in Limerick, with the arrival of 3 baby girls adding to the Hodges’ family over the last 6 years.
On arriving in Ireland, we settled in Dublin for 2 years and I played 1st division Rugby with Blackrock College. I didn’t find the “off-field” activity as enjoyable as what I’d been used to with the Shammies, and after seriously injuring my left knee for a 2nd time in 2004, I hung up the boots. Refereeing held no interest to me at that point, but I had joked on more than 1 occasion that I could definitely do better than some of the imbeciles that had refereed matches I played in over the years!!!
Having done very little strenuous training during 2005-06, it was time to get off my arse and get active once more. I had just started a new job with the Irish Rugby Football Union, and one of my work colleagues needed a favour at an underage rugby festival. What I didn’t realise was that this favour involved refereeing matches, but being new to the organisation, I wasn’t going to tell him to F!@# Off in my first week on the job.
The work colleague was Dave McHugh, who unbeknown to me, was a former international referee who refereed over 50 test matches and 3 World Cups and whose main claim to fame was being crash tackled by a Sth African spectator during a 2002 Tri-Nations match between SA-NZ in Durban (check it out on youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jl8S2bJN2pY. He saw me referee that day and encouraged me to stick with it, as he felt that I had a bit of promise as a ref (not surprising considering some of the nuffies refereeing in Ireland).
To cut a long story short I started refereeing under age rugby, progressing through the ranks to eventually refereeing Division 1 Rugby in the All-Ireland league (equivalent of 1st Grade Premier Rugby in Sydney), Provincial “A” matches (equivalent of Super Rugby 2nd XV matches) and being appointed as an Assistant referee in Heineken Cup, Magners League and European Nations Cup (Six Nations 2nd tier). Whether I will progress any further to refereeing more professional Rugby is a great unknown, as there is an element of being in the right place at the right time regarding selection, but my age (40 in November) will probably count against me, as there are a lot of guys in the refereeing ranks that are younger than me. However I can always say that I am an international referee – if only for 7 minutes………….
Georgia v Romania European Nations Cup. Tblisi, February 2011.
Having taken the 1 hour flight from Dublin to London, and then the 8 hour flight to Tblisi, Gerogia, I was fairly tired when I arrived at 01.05 on the Saturday morning of the Georgia v Romania match. I would have to say that Tblisi would not have a lot going for it as a holiday destination – it is a typically economically poor former Soviet Union country, where a small few people seem to control all the wealth and the remaining 99.5% of the population having to battle on in basic living conditions.
As we arrived at the smaller of the 2 Georgian national stadiums (25,000 capacity) at around 1.30 pm for the match kick-off at 3pm, the presence of 500 riot police in full combat gear was more than a little disconcerting. We were assured that this was standard procedure for sporting fixtures in Georgia, but certainly woke me up rapidly from any tiredness from the previous day’s journey.
Having gone through all of the pre-match formalities (including banter with the Georgian defence coach – former Wallabies defence coach John Muggleton), the match kicked-off with both teams absolutely tearing in to each other. The skill levels on show were not as high as in the Six Nations championship (and they can be low at times!!!), but I have never seen a more physical contest up close, and that includes NRL matches. Both teams have qualified for the 2011 World Cup in NZ, and I could see Georgia being sticky opposition early in the tournament when they are fresh, but will probably run out of gas as the tournament progresses as they seem to only be able to play a physical game. Romania will take some hammerings in RWC, as they are pretty poor.
As the match played out I only had 1 significant input as Assistant referee, giving confirmation of a Romanian try where the ref was unsighted (no TMO on duty). Thankfully the tape of the match confirmed the call was right.
At around 72 mins, I noticed that the ref had taken a knock as a result of being a little to close to the action, but thought nothing of it until he came over to the sideline to say a player had stood on his foot in running, and he couldn’t run properly. I was therefore put in to the middle for the last 7 mins, and quickly realised that there was very little (if any) English spoken by the player’s and that they hadn’t a clue what I was saying. Having rapidly found the English speakers on both teams, the remainder of the match went without any incident. The player’s were fairly tired by the time I went on, and were only really going through the motions of the last portions of the game, but it was an enjoyable experience nevertheless.
The post match function was an all male affair – very few women to be seen anywhere in Georgia. The menu consisted exclusively of about 6 varieties of meat (no vegetables/salads for the Eastern Europeans), and finished with the Presidents of the Georgian and Romanian Unions leading a mass toast to all in attendance with shots of Vodka. The Vodka was then flowing in mass quantities in bottles of a size that I didn’t think existed. A sore head for me was not ideal for the long journey home at 7am on Sunday morning, but added to the overall experience of my 32 hours in Georgia
So there you have it – a long drawn out story of my international debut as a referee, but one that I can look back upon in years to come as a milestone of sorts. Good Luck to all of the Shammies teams in 2011 – and hopefully the great start to the season is a sign of a good year ahead.