Malta Rugby Union Referees’ Society open new round of player education with workshop conducted by FIRA referee Lionel da Silva

Da Silva says Malta will need to be at their best against a strong Swiss side on April 6 for the vital World Cup Qualifier match.

22 March 2013, 12:00am
Malta Rugby Union Referee Lionel da Silva, who has been selected for the IRB’s level 3 referee course in August, conducted a laws workshop for local players as part of an education programme set up by Referee Society Manager Don Hewer.
Malta Rugby Union Referee Lionel da Silva, who has been selected for the IRB’s level 3 referee course in August, conducted a laws workshop for local players as part of an education programme set up by Referee Society Manager Don Hewer.
Local referee Lionel da Silva has been busy this season, he was selected to referee the international rugby match between Cyprus and Slovenia in Cyprus, together with handling matches in France, as well as managing all his league commitments in Malta which will be over 50 games this season. The tireless referee da Silva on Wednesday night conducted his first workshop for Malta Rugby Union players as part of an on-going initiative by Malta Rugby Referee Manager Don Hewer to bring players into closer contact with referees and learn about the game.

Says da Silva, "In 2008 I stopped playing rugby to become 100% a referee, and despite the distance between my home then and the headquarters of the Rugby Federation in Lisbon, they helped me and followed me as much as they could, especially Manuel Barros and Ferdinando Sousa. This grounding is the platform that has allowed me to progress over the last 5 years.

In June 2009, work sent me back to France, in the Marseille area. I joined the Provence Referees' Society and refereed some lower senior regional series. I was getting prepared for the exam to enter in the national panel (Fédérale 3) but again in January 2011 I got moved, this time to Malta. Since then, I've been enjoying a good level of rugby despite the limited conditions we have."

And now he is a Test referee. Not without help.

"Last season in Malta, Muiris Mahon, from the Munster Association of Referees in Ireland came around with me from time-to-time and provided me with some precious advice. It was very interesting to listen to such an experienced referee. I learnt a lot especially in the management of conflict. I also had a good help from our Referee Manager, Don Hewer who is a certified FIRA-AER referee coach and who always believed in my capacities. This year I have Mike Beerman, another former referee from Leicester (England) who follows my game and gives me his feedback."

And of course Malta's Referee da Silva can absorb the good points of great referees on TV, YouTube or through the IRB website for referees. "There are four referees whom I have particularly admired - Alain Rolland, Steve Walsh, Craig Joubert and Mark Lawrence. I like seeing Mark, Craig and Alain for their game management and how they talk to players. And Steve is always relaxed on the pitch."

Not surprisingly, da Silva would like to continue to climb the refereeing ladder, and he is doing so. "Recently, I refereed a Regional Division 1 game in France. I went to Toulouse, which has produced some of the best French referees, like Romain Poite and before him Joël Jutge. It was a good experience and a way to discover different rugby, speak another language. I really enjoyed it and I'm looking forward to going there again and ref a higher level game. It was also a good preparation for my game in Cyprus and a test to assess my skills as I was supervised by French officials of the Toulouse Referees' Society. They helped me with their own experience and some good observations about my game that I have to correct because I didn't reach perfection, not yet!"

Da Silva says the match in Paphos was an important step up the ladder to becoming a top referee and he is grateful for the opportunity FIRA-AER have given him. Then he moved on to talk about rugby in Malta, which has grown strongly over the last few years and whose National Rugby Union Team are expecting a record 4000 supporters to be present at Hibs Ground on April 6 for the important World Cup Qualifying match against Switzerland.

"If you look at a map, you will see that we are a small island. But we have had good results on the international scene recently and now Malta's National Rugby Team are in the top 40, it's a big achievement. Of course the mix of players were part of this success under the direction of our National Coach, Damian Neil, who has been strongly advocating development of the game here on the Maltese Islands. In fact, Malta Rugby Union re-started a programme last year to implement rugby at schools with the help of some community coaches in order to bring up the local player base further and prepare for the future. This year Daniel Holliday has done a great job with that supported by GasanMamo and we are seeing more and more interest in the game. In addition, we already started to see additional growth of the sport this year with the creation of 3 more clubs, including the first Club from Gozo - Gozo Bulls, and the presence of more players from the domestic championship in the national squad. They will need to be at their level best to give Switzerland a competitive match on April 6.

"Unfortunately we are lacking referees in Malta. I'm the youngest and we are all volunteers. Veteran referees like Bryan Cortlett and Edwin Ward, both over 50 years old, are giving a hand for all the games we had, but we still need more as we are not able to provide regular Assistant Referees in our top games in the domestic Cisk League Division One. Last weekend was a first in recent times, where we had three referees for the Malta A match against the visiting Sicilian side, with Andrew Camilleri and Edwin Ward helping me out, it's a trend that Don Hewer would like to build on further, the team of 3 referees who manage important local matches. More eyes, more ears, it's a good combination. Hopefully, with the recent agreement signed with the government to provide rugby with its own stadium we will be able to grow more in the coming year and recruit more people."

Don Hewer, Manager of Malta's Rugby Union Referee Society says, "Everybody in the local rugby community needs to work to improve player knowledge to imbue the spirit of the game - respect, fair play and discipline - across all segments of the game, not just the elite player level. We also need to ensure that the junior and youth programmes instill our core values. Lionel's example, and that of Steve Busuttil also a Fira-AER International referee, show that our referee's have a standard that is internationally accepted and the travel of these referee's to competitive leagues elsewhere in Europe, and their selection for international matches demonstrates that the programmes in place to develop referees in Malta continue to bear fruit for the benefit of the Union, players and competitions on the local calendar. We also have a number of up-and-coming referees who are able to benefit from the feedback and advice of our most experienced Referee Society Members. This is all good for the game," he added.

Community Coach Daniel Holliday who currently administers the GasanMamo Youth Programme for Malta Rugby, who is also a National Team player, says, "Club coaches have a responsibility to ensure the captains that they choose are calm and balanced individuals, who have a really strong and positive influence on the players around them, as it is clear these kind of characters will work better with referees for the good of the game as a whole, but more importantly from the teams viewpoints it can only benefit them. It's always a pleasure to work with intelligent captains who want a genuine answer to decisions and this benefits everyone, the Rugby World Cup has set a real example on how captains can have a strong influence on their team mates whilst having open communication with the referee. The referees in Malta attend a lot of courses, this helps everyone involved with the game to develop their skills and workshops held by the referees give all the players direct access to decision-making, we have a very good set-up in this regard. This gives players the opportunity to become better educated helping them in the build up to the next set of internationals, and helps us prepare for our big match against Switzerland on April 6."

Malta Rugby is supported by Cisk Lager and the brands at Farsons Brewery, Mediterranean Bank, GasanMamo who are helping to develop the next generation of Malta Rugby players, Bortex Fine Tailoring, Intercontinental Malta, Sundreams Travel, LH&A, PWC and Melita.

The next workshop will be held in April and will be conducted by FIRA referee Steve Busuttil. For more information about becoming a volunteer with Malta Rugby Union kindly call MRFU on 9920 7677. The next international match against Switzerland will take place at the Hibernians Football Stadium on April 6, kick-off at 2.00pm. For further information visit www.maltarugby.com or call 9988 1266.