Hsieh (l) and Lui all smiles at RWC 7s
USA Rugby contributed close to 30 referees, managers, liaisons and technical zone personnel to the Rugby World Cup Sevens (RWC 7s). As more than 100,000 fans vivified AT&T Park, the on-field officials were the mark of poise and focus. But that stoicism was reserved for game time, as in-goal and assistant referees (ARs) Emily Hsieh and Jenny Lui explained, and the officials were just as appreciative and overjoyed as the teams and fans to be involved in this historic event.
“That star-eyed emoji, I feel, really is a representation of how I feel inside whenever I’m out there,” Hsieh half-joked.
Hsieh flanked by Jill Potter and Lee Bryant at AT&T
Lui concurred and was still coming down from that epic Japan-Fiji women’s game when Hsieh joined her for a quick break in the stands. The duo had combined for 16 matches on day one, and Lui logged 14 miles on her GPS. But there was no sign of fatigue or exasperation – even when the nearby Scottish bagpipers startled early-morning spectators – because they were enjoying their place in the RWC 7s.
“I was in-goal for Fjii-Japan [men] last night and the energy in the crowd was electric,” Lui singled out a memorable match. “That was a really cool experience to be a part of that.
“The ones where the stadium just gets so loud. Similar to that one, I was in-goal for the Ireland-Chile game,” Hsieh said.
And some of that stadium noise was directed at them and the rest of the on-field crew.
Graphic courtesy of USA Rugby Referees Facebook
“All the time,” Hsieh said of hearing personalized cheers. “That’s one of the most special parts of this whole experience. Being a ref is not really about us, it’s about the players. They’re the stars. But being out there and having fans cheer for you too is really cool.”
Hsieh talked about the kids who hung over the tunnel to the pitch, extending their high-fiving hands for players and referees alike.
“It’s just a reminder of how big and welcoming the rugby community is,” Lui added.
It’s also a reminder of how big and important the event itself was. Both Lui are Hsieh confessed to nerves, but as are current/former players (Lui is a capped USA 15s Eagle and WPL Glendale Merlin and Hsieh came out of the Brown University program), they know how to convert nervous energy into excitement and have it feed their on-field performances.
Lui (r) with Hailee Sell (l) and Leah Berard in Vegas / Photo: Colleen McCloskey
“I think I’m more nervous as an in-goal than as an AR, and more nervous as an AR than I am as a [center] ref – IN the game. It’s the reverse leading up to the game,” Hsieh said. “In the build-up I’m more nervous if I’m in the center, slightly less nervous if I’m AR, and then less nervous as an in-goal. In the game, once you’re cued in and in flow, I don’t get to feel nervous.”
“You’ll make one call a game but it’ll make or break the game, so there’s a lot of pressure for an in-goal ref,” Lui added. “You have more time to think about things [compared to the center ref].”
They explained that ARs and in-goal refs must have a system to keep focus during games, because the action isn’t consistent.
Photo: Colleen McCloskey
“You have to have certain mental cues for yourself to stay focused because it is taxing to do the entire time, especially if you’re doing something like in-goal and maybe play is far away from you. You have to be able to snap back on when they get within range,” Lui explained. “You have to play little mental games to be able to do that, switch on and off at the right times.”
Their selection to the RWC 7s staff was part of their referee pathway, and both want to keep pursuing incredible opportunities with the whistle. As for aspirations to be a World Rugby referee?
“Emily Hsieh is,” Hsieh laughed with the first-person reference. “I would like to go as far as I can and I think I can go as far as … well, as you can go. I believe in myself.”
Lui tracking the action between Atavus and Quebec
Lui prefers 7s over 15s for the pace and excitement of the game and fitness required, but Hsieh divided her affection.
“I like both but I like different things about each game. I have to be diplomatic but that’s also how I feel,” Hsieh said. “I think 7s is super exciting. I like the fitness and the challenge, the speed, and definitely the atmosphere and the amount of community you can have as a referee. Because 15s can be isolating a little bit. But I think after a good 15s game, when you’ve done 80 minutes of making a thousand decisions and problem-solving, and facilitated a really solid 15s game, it has this level of satisfaction you don’t necessarily get from 14 minutes of sprinting. It’s a much harder mental challenge in my experience.”
Hsieh in the middle for USA Falcons vs. Aussie Pearls / Photo: Colleen McCloskey
Hsieh and Lui see each other on the 7s circuit, and in 2018 alone worked the USA 7s and LVI, USA Rugby College 7s Championship and CRC 7s, and they’ll both be in New York City for the club 7s championship. Hsieh will also be in Saranac Lake for the Futures Sevens Tournament this weekend and has seen action at Hong Kong 7s, Vancouver 7s, in Bermuda, Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center, and in a World Rugby 7s qualifier this competition cycle. It’s an aggressive schedule but some good planning has allowed Hsieh the flexibility to pursue a dream. That said, the Washington, D.C., resident has, for the first time years, accepted a full-time (non-rugby) position.
Photo: Colleen McCloskey
“Reffing can lead to a lot of really great opportunities,” Lui said. “I would put in a plug to encourage current players or retired players to take up refereeing because for current players it makes you a better player. You’re able to understand the laws and use them to your advantage. And as a retired player, it’s the best seat in the house. You’re on the field and still a very integral part of the game.”
USA RUGBY REFEREES
2018 RWC 7s
ARs & IN-GOALS
Steve Fenaroli, Kahlil Harrison, Emily Hsieh, Suguru Kamamuta, Brian Kelly, Tim Lew, Cisco Lopez, Jenny Lui, Gavin McCandless, Michelle O’Brien, Jillion Potter, Kat Roche, Lex Weiner
MANAGERS & LIAISONS
Brian Zapp, Greg Gilliam, Nick Ricono, Haylee Slaughter, and Mike Kelly!
Brad Kleiner, Nathan Abdelnour, Olivia Rogers, Phil Akroyd, Steve Gore, Jeremiah Johnson, Chris Huff, Lee Bryant, Dan Drasher, and Stephen Forrest