Joy Neville - International Player to WC Final Ref P1
August 25, 2017
Girl ref Dallas McKnight benefits from special connection with Jaco Peyper
August 29, 2017
Two highlights stand out in young Dallas McKnight's mind throughout her five-year refereeing career.
One is penalising her older brother during her debut secondary school rugby match last year.
The other is playing water girl to one of the world's top referees, Jaco Peyper, at the All Blacks and Wales 2016 test match in Wellington.
She might be small but 13-year-old Dallas McKnight isn't to be questioned when officiating a rugby game.
That second proud moment also kicked off a special connection between the South African rugby ref and the 13-year-old from the Kapiti Coast.
Overall, there are 126 active referees in the Wellington region, and Dallas is one of just four females.
But she has all the weight of Peyper's experience on her side. After he finished his whistle duties in the first British and Irish Lions test in Auckland on Saturday, he sat down with Dallas on Tuesday. Whenever he's in the country, he catches up with the year nine Kapiti College student.
"She loves him, she looks up to Jaco, he is her referee idol," mum Janine said.
"And I think Jaco is taken with Dallas, he is really fond of her. I just received an email from him actually, asking how her representative trials went."
Peyper is bound by international rugby rules and is not allowed to speak to media during the Lions tour. But Janine said that, when the pair met on Tuesday, they went over refereeing protocols, and Peyper explained new GPS tracking systems being used in today's games.
"They sat down and had a really good session together, and he showed Dallas what she could be in store for in years to come."
Dallas is quite clear about what the future holds. "To be the best, I have to just keep refereeing as I get older, and just do more and more games."
Dallas plays halfback in her under-15 Kapiti College girls' rugby team, and Peyper told her that, if he wasn't busy, he would have refereed the team's final against Rahui Kura on June 28, which they won 26-10 to take out the U-15 girls grade.
Dallas is also on the radar of Wellington Rugby Union's first female board member, Izzy Ford.
Referees were a male-dominated role back when the former Black Fern, and now Porirua deputy mayor, represented New Zealand. But she said the women's game was growing, for both players and officials.
"There is a step up, largely due to our national women's sevens team, for example, and the St Mary's College sevens team who represented New Zealand at the Sanix World Youth Cup in Japan.
"So, gradually, we are going to see a bit more representation ... of women who will be officiating, which is good for the game. It's important for the sport to be gender-inclusive and provide those retiring players the pathway to give back to the sport and become a referee.
"We also have to provide for our women, and for girls like Dallas, the opportunity to see refereeing as a viable career."
Dallas isn't going to Saturday night's test in Wellington, but will be glued to the television watching Peyper running the touchlines as assistant referee.