James Mortimer 25.Oct.2013Image thanks to Lee Jeffrey
Jeffrey is representative of the depth and 'mana' that features so prominently in New Zealand in all areas, and she is proud to oversee a Women’s Final between Canterbury and Auckland, an important match after the boom that female rugby has witnessed in recent years.
Now part of the Olympics alongside the men’s competition, the strong revival of the Women’s Provincial Championship, the increased activity of the Black Ferns, and even the recent milestone that 1.5 million ladies are registered playing the game worldwide – is ample evidence of a growth that Jeffrey has been delighted to be part of.
“The game is really growing for us girls” she explains enthusiastically.
“It has come a long way from when I started 14 years ago, and if anything I feel as if I have just started!”
Jeffrey is among the senior female referees in New Zealand, with her career starting the same time as Nicky Inwood, and both women would be counted among the most experienced in their profession.
This comes as something of a double edged sword for Jeffrey, who has spent plenty of time passing on her skills as increased focus on development and youth has seen an influx of young ladies picking up the whistle.
“There has been so much increased investment,” she said.
“Everything from more matches to the Go4Gold program, we are seeing more and more girls start playing rugby which means there is more demand and interest for female referees.
"A lot of new faces, teenagers, are coming into the system.
“For me this means I need to step up.”
Jeffrey has a competitive tone which is in contrast to her size (the shortest of all the New Zealand senior referees team), and while she has made notable international appearances overseeing Sevens contests, the IRB Women’s Sevens World Series has become a breeding ground for the next generation of refereeing talent.
As happy as Jeffrey is to see new blood, this has only ensured she continues to set high goals.
“I'm setting my sights to be part of the team that features at the 2014 IRB Women’s Rugby World Cup in France,” she said.
“I’ve been really happy with my performances during the Women’s competition as I think my performance has lifted with my focus away from the field.”
Focus and hard work seem to be words Jeffrey is comfortable with, married with three step daughters (who Jeffrey jokes are older which gives her more time to train), while juggling a full time logistics and supply career, burgeoning refereeing goals, late night study for a certificate for management – and a training schedule that top level rugby players would be proud of.
So how does a typical day begin for Lee?
“I’m up by at least 5:45am, I need to get to the gym before work, and now have increased my training diary to seven days a week," she said.
“It is different to how it used to be, so as standards have lifted I’ve taken measures such as employing a personal trainer to make sure I have what it takes.”
Despite a full time, and then some, list of things to do, her workplace is supportive, even allowing extended lunchbreaks to complete some sessions.
Such a timetable has only helped Jeffrey on the field.
“The difference between fitness and lack off is your ability to stay with the game,” Jeffrey said.
“You track to each ruck faster, and move with the players to ensure your monitoring ever play.”
“The most important thing is your decision making improves; because your body isn’t fatiguing so your brain remains 100%.”
This weekend, Jeffrey will line up alongside Inwood and Natasha Ganley, who will serve as her "eyes on the lines".
It continues her association with the red and blacks, with Jeffrey making her first class debut in 2003 with a match between Waikato and Canterbury, and times have changed since stepping up to the big time a decade ago.
Even after a tough run to make sure the girls remain sharp, there is plenty to digest away from the field.
“We have meetings during the season, and locally we get together every week.” Jeffrey said.
“I’m a proud member of the Waikato referee academy, and we meet and train regularly through the week.
“We also have to take the yearly law test, and go through referee programs.
“We now have a meeting with all of the top (NZ) women referees, and there has been a noticeable lift and demand in quality.
Jeffrey said most of the briefs for the Women’s National Provincial Champions were in line with the requirements of the men’s game.
“For us the new scrum law was a big one, but the women have worked well with that,” she said.
“Second was that we manage the breakdown and getting them to comply there was important.
The rise of top shelf standards meant that some girls had to learn the hard way that being part of the Women’s Provincial Championship was a glimpse of what existed in the wider scheme of things.
“It is amazing that we are in the Olympics, and even at our level” Jeffrey laughs “we are seeing increased initiatives which are great.”
“The Black Ferns, the Women’s Sevens girls, the referees team, all of them will have standards and quality are only going to lift.
“We are seeing young women transfer some amazing skills from other codes, and interest is switching away from the men,” the experienced Waikato referee jokes.
Or maybe she wasn’t.
“I like to think I train like an All Black” Jeffrey says with deadly seriousness.
“I want to referee in France next year, and making my international debut which remains my highest goal.”
“I’ve never been fitter and have a semi-old head on my shoulders,” Lee again says with a laugh that doesn’t go hand in hand with her authority on the field.
“I’m a Waikato girl so I’ve always had to know how to compete, especially with the lads here, but I wouldn’t have it any other way as I know it only leads to me growing myself and my game as a consequence.”
Lee Jeffrey referees the 2013 Women’s Provincial Championship Final at Westpac Stadium on Saturday 26 October, with the game kicking off at 16:35pm (NZT).