Ollie Michie in action in his Premier debut in early May in the match between Paremata-Plimmerton and Old Boys University. PHOTO: Stewart Baird.
- By Adam Julian
Oscar Wilde once said, “Rugby is a good occasion for keeping thirty bullies far from the centre of the city.”
How then does a young referee deal with some of the gnarly, wily, veterans in Wellington Premier Rugby?
“Dealing with older players is something you develop with experience. I’m comfortable knowing I’m not going to get everything right, but it’s not about convincing yourself you’re right all the time. It’s about trying to appear human while being in control. You’re not trying to be their best mate, but you are trying to establish a rapport. You’re allowed to have a laugh when something funny happens. You’re allowed to be yourself,” Ollie Michie responded.
The 22-year-old recently officiated his first Premier game when Old Boys University beat Paremata-Plimmerton 32-30 in the Swindale Shield. The Hammerheads captain, James Corcoran was making his 100th senior appearance that day.
“It was pretty daunting, but exciting at the same time,” Michie said.
“I wasn’t even appointed to that fixture. It was the week of Daniel Mangin’s 100th game and I was supposed to be running touch for Dan which I was really excited about because Dan has been a big supporter.
“On Thursday night I got a call from Brent Murray, chair of selections, asking if I was ready for my Premier debut. We were short of numbers due to Covid.
“OBU versus Para-Plim was an unreal game. Ngāti Toa has to be one of the best grounds in Wellington, the spectators are close to the action and the crowd is loud and respectful.
“The first half an hour was close and then a yellow card for Para-Plim opened things up for OBU. They were ahead 32-19 when Para Plim came back, and even had a couple of chances to kick at goal and win the game. It was exhilarating to be on your toes the whole time.”
Without careful planning and medicine, exhilaration is something Michie can lose swiftly. He suffers from type 1 diabetes.
“I’ve had diabetes for 18 years so managing it has become second nature, though it took a lot of trial and error to arrive at that point.
“When I referee, I have to think about when I eat, what I eat. Shall I carry my insulin pump? I don’t want to be too low otherwise I’ll lack energy to keep up. Conversely, I don’t want to be too high otherwise I’ll get erratic. Like a player, it’s about understanding how the body works best.”
When sitting exams at Wellington College, Michie was entitled to rest breaks and assigned a specialist supervisor. During one break the designated supervisor disappeared to make a bet on the Melbourne Cup.
Early in his career Michie collapsed while officiating a night match at Te Whaea Park. David Walsh was on standby and sprinted down the driveway towards the Newtown Countdown to purchase some Gatorade, returning briefly to control the match before Michie resumed his duties.
“I didn’t have to pay him back,” Michie laughed.
Michie started refereeing in 2016 after dabbling in rugby, football, basketball and orienteering. His first game was St Patrick’s College, Silverstream v Hutt Valley High School Under-65’s.
In 2018 he committed to a full season of refereeing and climbed to Level 3, appointed Premier II First XV fixtures. What’s the most challenging facet of the game to manage?
“Definitely the breakdown. There are so many moving parts to it and that’s where the most debate exists around what the ref’s rule and what the players and coaches expect to be ruled,” Michie responded.
Reducing scrum resists and improving the surveillance of maul set up could make the game more exciting.
There was nothing more exciting than the Premier Colts final between Old Boys University and Petone last year. In torrential rain and hail, Michie was the man in the middle for the extra-time, hundred-minute epic.
“It was an incredible day even before we got there. The game was originally due to kick-off at Petone at 1.00pm but that got changed to the Hutt Rec because of the conditions at Petone.
“When I arrived at the Hutt Rec from the Woburn Road end the entire footpath was a river. I’ve never seen anything like it. It was worse than Venice, and then they changed the kick-off time to 12:30pm. My AR was stuck in traffic!
“The spirit and skill of those teams was absolutely unreal. It got to 80 minutes and Petone scored to level it up. The conversion to win the game was on the sideline, a really difficult kick, into a stiff northerly. It nearly went over, unbelievable.”
In extra time Old Boys University sneaked ahead 25-21. The game ended with a pile-up over the students’ line, Petone claiming they’d scored the winning try.
“Petone was hammering the OBU line, and they got over in the middle of the field. I’ve seen nothing but bodies. I can’t count on my assistants here. I looked at my watch and it was done. I had another look and I still couldn’t see anything so I had to call time. There were a lot of instances for both teams where the ball was held up over the line. I felt sorry for Petone, but what a privilege to be involved in that final. It was an outstanding game of rugby.”
Michie balances his refereeing with employment as a teacher aide at Northland School.
“The thing I like most about refereeing is the flexibility of it. If you want to play golf in the morning and ref in the afternoon, do that. If you only want to stay in one suburb, you can do that too. It’s a great challenge learning all the rules and dealing with different personalities. You’re always learning and making new friends with people you wouldn’t otherwise meet.”
Ollie Michie in action this past weekend in the Petone versus Johnsonville Colts clash. Footage: Mike Lewis.