Working towards a future as a whistle-blower

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Phoebe Dundass wants to become North Otago’s first female rugby referee.

And she is building up her resume to reach that goal.

The Waitaki Wahine player’s journey to refereeing began three years ago, with some encouragement from North Otago Rugby Referees’ Josh Lewis, who suggested she should work towards becoming the first female referee in North Otago.

“I thought [it] was pretty awesome, so I said I’d give it a crack,” the 18-year-old said.

Straight away, Dundass was thrown in the “deep end”, serving as a touch judge for secondary school first XV matches. Those games had her hooked and she enjoyed adding another level to her love for a game.

“I still get nervous, but I really enjoy it because you’re so close to the game, but you’re not involved, but you still are in a way.”

Shortly after her debut, Dundass was given the opportunity to be a referee assistant at the 2019 Ranfurly Shield challenge between North Otago and Otago, in Oamaru.

It was an opportunity to meet “famous rugby players” and was a great learning experience, she said.

Earlier this year another opportunity arose for Dundass, when she ran out as a touch judge in the Citizens Shield premier match between Excelsior and Maheno.

The clash was her first premier match and she relished the experience.

“I got in there and got stuck in and it was great fun. It was a really physical game; you could get right up into the game.”

While Dundass had no official refereeing qualifications yet – although she had previously taken an online course – she planned to swap the flags for the whistle and take up refereeing soon.

Dundass became involved in rugby as a pupil at Waitaki Girls’ High School. She played as a winger and halfback for Waitaki Girls’ and a combined secondary schools team before joining the Waitaki Wahine.

She loved the game right from the start.

“It’s just so physical. I don’t really know, it’s just a sport that I’ve always wanted to play and I’ve really enjoyed playing it.”

She started officiating rugby to “give back to the sport” and was grateful for the support from the North Otago referees.

She was also a handy cricketer, playing for Valley and North Otago, and was previously an ambassador for the Forward Foundation, a charitable trust aiming to inspire the next generation of young female leaders in New Zealand through sport.

Next year Dundass plans to move to Canterbury and study sport management at Lincoln University.

“Sport is pretty much my everything.”