Our partners at ACME Whistles have been following the journey of 10-year-old Arthur Cripps – the young referee with a congenital heart condition that led him to take up the whistle. Yet they couldn’t have anticipated that his story would lead to him meeting his heroes at the home of England Rugby, Twickenham.
We caught up with Arthur, and his sports teacher, Jonny Cartwright, to find out more about their visit to Twickenham back in May, where he learnt from some of the world’s top referees – and sat in on an England training session.
“We started the day going on a tour and found out about the workings of Twickenham and what was going on that day,” said Arthur.
“Then we went into the gym where all the refs were training. Lots of England players were there as well. We watched Christoph Ridley doing some fitness tests.
“Christophe and Wayne Barnes said it was the first time ever that they’d had to share facilities with the England team so getting to meet them all was pretty exciting.”
Throughout the jam-packed day, Arthur, his dad and Jonny jumped between the gym and pitch side, seeing the changing rooms and medical facilities, including an on-site x-ray machine and dental surgery.
Jonny Cartwright added: “Because the players were training in units, we went from inside to outside so there was a bit of yo-yoing around so that we could make the most of seeing the players. We saw some gym work with the backs, we saw some of the half backs and centre combinations doing some training with Eddie Jones.”
After a brief chat, and photo opportunity, with Manu Tuilagi in the gym, Richard Hill stopped to meet Arthur, before they continued on to speak to some of the management team.
“We were shoulder to shoulder with all of the referees,” enthused Arthur.
“As we watched the referees, we saw Christophe training, and Sara Cox and Ian Tempest doing some sprint sessions at the side of the pitch. It was amazing.
“The coolest bit was that we got to sit on the bench, the actual players bench at Twickenham, and Eddie Jones came out to say “hello”.
“We then we watched the whole backs training session with Marcus Smith, Owen Farrell and Anthony Watson – that was really good.”
While the day was an opportunity for Arthur to engage with referees and progress his understanding of what’s involved in rugby union at the highest level, there was another reason behind the invitation.
Kate Sadler is the Professional Game Match Officials Opps Coordinator at Twickenham. She read about Arthurs story in RUCK and invited Arthur down. Her brother had a similar heart defect to Arthur and sadly died at the age of three, after a series of operations.
Arthur’s story resonated with her, inspiring her to create a once in a lifetime opportunity for Arthur.
“She was able to draw parallels because her brother also had the same, if not similar, condition,” said Jonny.Freddie Steward gets awful first tattoo in viral video
“She showed us a picture of her brother which was lovely.
“She read about Arthur and wanted to get in touch. She’s in charge of all the professional referees – their schedules, where they’re going and when so she thought it was a great opportunity to support Arthur because she understands what it means to live with a condition like his.
“She was genuinely pleased to see somebody with the challenges Arthur faces, being able to get involved in rugby through refereeing.
“She said that her brother would have loved to have been able to grow up and do something like Arthur.”
During a healthy buffet lunch in the Captain’s Room, Arthur sat with Luke Pearce, Christophe Ridley and Wayne Barnes for some food.
“I had lunch with them which was really good,” said Arthur. “It really was like I was one of the team. They were all so kind and supportive. And they gave me loads of refereeing tips!”
“We then sat in on a post-match de-brief with Tom Foley and Christophe Ridley.
“Christophe presented a timeline of all the events in the game that were either important or that he wanted to discuss, in the same way Mr C and me look at my games at school.
“During the post-match debrief, Christophe asked my opinion on certain things. They really wanted to know my thoughts.”
Arthurs’s teacher, Mr Cartwright, added; “It was a huge learning experience just watching the process, but they really got Arthur involved. They didn’t treat Arthur like a kid and he felt like he was one of the referees.”
Throughout the day, Arthur was able to take away tips from each session that will help him progress on his own refereeing journey.
He added: “I realised that referees have to look at what they’ve done and always see how they can improve because you’re always going to make a few mistakes,” said Arthur. “Nobody is perfect. Not even the best in the world.”
“That made me realise that I could probably do that a bit more.
“The three areas Christophe most helped me with are probably around the ruck, knock-ons and field positioning.”
In the afternoon, Wayne Barnes hosted a CPD session for Arthur alongside ex Harlequins player and the RFU’s director of performance rugby, Conor O’Shea, providing tips on which angles to look out for in a scrum.
He also advised Arthur on how he can make sure his instructions as a referee are really clear.
“One thing they focused on, which I found fascinating, was the cadence of the referee’s instructions,” added Jonny Cartwight.
“It’s about not being predictable. You want to make sure that you’re clear, that you are consistent, without being predictable.”
“Arthur took it all in and, because some of the laws are different for Arthur’s age group, we were there to help make everything relevant to what he does at school.”
“It was great timing because we had done our scrum clinic about a month before so, the session with Wayne and Conor looking at body positions couldn’t have been better timed.
The day ended on a high with Arthur and Mr Cartwright asking for a photograph with the team of match officials only to be presented with a signed shirt containing signatures of many of the England players training on that day.
So, what’s next for Arthur?
“I’d like to ref the rugby world cup final at Twickenham one day’, he said with a twinkle in his eye.
“The day definitely gave me an idea of what it’s like to be a professional referee. It’s made me want to try even harder and be a better referee.
“In September, when I start refereeing again, I can’t wait to use the skills I learnt at Twickenham.
“It was amazing to meet everyone in person. Especially meeting Wayne Barns – and Luke Pearce in real life.”
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