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From Top Playing to Top Refereeing

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Karl Dickson retires this month from playing for Harlequins and will be joining England's group of professional referees next season.

By Paul Dobson, Moonsport

It's not a simple case of putting away a ball and picking up a whistle. Three years ago, at the age of 31, he started refereeing, refereeing and playing, as most scrumhalves tend to do.

He himself once said of scrumhalves: “We pretty much referee the game anyway until we are told to shut up.”

On playing and refereeing, he said: Dickson said: “Over the last two years any time that I have had - a free Saturday or Sunday or even during the week - I would referee as many games as possible to get as much practice as I could. Every game you learn something new and gain increasing match sharpness."

His playing career after leaving Barnard Castle, a public school up in Durham, he played over 100 matches for Bedford Blues before joining Harlequins. Despite competition with Danny Care, he played 169 matches for Harlequins. He was close to an England side. It was his brother Lee, younger by two years, who played scrumhalf for England.

He is not the only scrumhalf to play top rugby and become a top referee in recent times. Frank Murphy of Ireland, Jamie Nutbrown of New Zealand and Nic Berry of Australia have done the dame. Murphy refereed his first Test in 2016, and Berry and Nutbrown are refereeing Super Rugby.

Not too long ago Alain Rolland played scrumhalf for Ireland, then became a top referee on the world scene and now is in charge of World Rugby's referee. Rolland's predecessor was also a scrumhalf - Joël Jutge, who played scrumhalf for Colomiers, before becoming a Test referee and then in charge of the world's referees.

Looking back and forward, Dickson said: “I would always encourage players to plan for when they retire and the fact that I’ve been refereeing for three years already puts me in a position where I can look forward to starting with the team next season and, having refereed in a Championship game this year, hopefully officiate more at that level. I wouldn't have this opportunity unless I started when I did.

“It is an exciting new challenge, I’ve been part of a rugby team for so long and now get to keep that team environment but with a different group. The match officials are full-time and work together at Twickenham on a Monday and Tuesday and, of course, over the weekends. It will be different for me but it’s very exciting and I’m looking forward to starting later in the summer.”

Tony Spreadbury, the former Test referee who is in charge of England's top referees, said:“I’ve been impressed by Karl’s commitment, his attitude and his desire to go all the way in refereeing. His experience at scrumhalf means he understands and has a good connection with both forward and back play. We’ re very much looking forward to him joining us full-time to continue his development.

“We think he is an exciting prospect and has the skills to progress up the ladder. It is great that he has chosen refereeing as a post playing career and took the initiative to qualify before retiring. We hope that he will be a role model for others, encouraging more players to consider refereeing in the future.” advert