Honiton rugby referee set to hang up his whistle

Richard Steggall (right) receives a commemerative tankard to mark 20 years of being a rugby referee

Richard Steggall (right) receives a commemerative tankard to mark 20 years of being a rugby referee from the 2015 Devon Rugby Referee's Society (DRRS) president, Simon Lane (left). Picture DEVON RFU - Credit: Archant

Honiton-based, long-serving rugby referee Richard Steggall is just one game away from chucking his kit bag in the attic and hanging up his whistle for good, writes Conrad Sutcliffe.

Steggall, a youthful looking 51-year-old, started refereeing for the Devon Rugby Referees’ Society way back in 1994.

Official records of games refereed are not kept by the Society, but Steggall was a three-times-a-week official in his younger days and reckons he clocked up more than a thousand games.

Steggall, now the referee appointments official for the DRRS, went back to where it almost all began yesterday to whistle the Devon One game between Buckfastleigh and Exeter Saracens.

On Sunday (January 27), Steggall will be at Topsham’s Bonfire Field ground to referee the Lily Partridge Memorial Match. That will be the last time he is the man in the middle.

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Steggall, who played for the now-defunct Axminster club and odd games for Honiton before taking up the whistle, said there was symmetry to his last two games.

“I will be finishing where I started as my first competitive, league game was Buckfastleigh v Exeter Saracens,” said Steggall.

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“When looking through the fixtures at the beginning of the season I decided that it would be my last game.

“I have family and friends travelling down to watch and support me in my last game. They have always been a tower of strength, which I would love to thank them for.”

Steggall has long been an enthusiast for the women’s game and the Lily Partridge Memorial Match is particularly significant for him.

Lily, who played for Topsham-based Exonian Ladies, collapsed and later died after suffering an accidental head injury during a training session. She was just 22.

The game has been played in her memory annually since her death in December 2015.

“It is a sad but happy day that illustrates what the rugby family and its values are all about,” said Steggall.

“A great loss is followed by the immense joy of celebration games, fund raising and, if I know the Topsham girls, plenty of port.”

Essex boy Steggall played for Chelmsford as a youngster before joining the army and training in catering at the Army Apprenticeship College, Aldershot.

He played rugby while based with 29 Signal Regiment in Berlin and for Axminster after returning to Civvy Street and training as a paramedic.

Steggall switched refereeing in 1994 and has never regretted it.

“When I first picked the whistle up my only ambition was to referee at a better level that I played at,” said Steggall.

Steggall started at the bottom, third and second team games in Devon, then advanced up through the levels of county and regional appointments to the South West Group.

The next step was the National League panel, which is where Steggall got stuck.

“I was top referee for two of the five years I was on the South West Group and managed 12 National League games, but did not quite cut the mustard,” said Steggall.

“In one game I refereed the John Bentley (ex-dual code international and British Lion) and when told said I had never heard of him. You should haves seen their faces!”

Steggall has refereed across the spectrum from under-13 cup games to women’s internationals and representative games.

Whatever level the game has been he has always tried to adopt the same approach, although some inevitably stand out more than others.

“I pride myself on every game being as important as the next, but there have been some highlights,” said Steggall.

“My first National League game was at Blackheath, the oldest club in England.

“Oxford University versus University of South Africa was the only game I wanted to stop for my own ‘injury’. I didn’t actually have one; it was very quick.

“Two ladies international games: England versus the Army and England versus an Antipodean XV

“Refereeing my son Jake in his first county game and refereeing a Devon Senior Cup game, which not many Devon refs have done in the modern day as they are usually exchanged with other societies.”

Rugby also has a social element to game playing and Steggall has pitched himself into those matches with gusto.

“For 18 of the last 20 years I have refereed the Boxing Day game at Withycombe and managed a drop-goal, a few tackles among them a try saving one on Adam Pearce, and a try to boot,” said Steggall.

“I have enjoyed six tours to the Rocky Mountain Referee Society in the United States, mainly with (Cornish referee) Ian Pengelly.

“The first time we went in 2003 I referred their cup final, only the second non-American to do so in 36 years.

“And there have been too many trips to the Newquay Beach Sevens to mention.”

During 25 years as an active referee, Steggall has served the referees’ society and Devon RFU in numerous capacities.

Over the years Steggall has been a DRRS executive committee member before graduating to joint training officer with Simon Lane, discipline secretary, appointments officer and the top job of president.

He was also on Devon RFU as a club representative for a couple of years.

Steggall readily acknowledges the help he had progressing through the refereeing ranks from coaches Tim Mahoney and David May. For that reason he is switching from refereeing to coaching.

“Having put in what I think is my fair share of years, and the way the game is changing, I have decided to coach referees,” said Steggall.

“I am embarking on helping two at present that are on the South West Group and trying to get them to progress on to the National Panel of referees.”

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