Northern California Rugby Football Union Referee Society | Cliff Hanger
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Cliff Hanger


Rugby Today ( has an assistant editor and columnist named Pat Clifton.   He has been commenting on rugby for years and hails back to the days when Rugby Today was Rugby Magazine – the only real source for American rugby news.   He recently wrote a column titled “The State of American Refereeing”.   As one would expect, we here at Hail Pelicus were overjoyed to see how American referees measured up.   You can read the full article here.


Oh dear, where do I begin.   This is such a steaming pile of ignorance that it was difficult to work my way through, but I did it.  Let’s take a look at some of Mr Clifton’s better bon mots.


“I am a certified referee. I’ve done some games. I don’t know how many – probably more than 20 but less than a hundred.”   Well, that establishes your bona fides as an expert.  He is obviously well trained and takes refereeing seriously.


Our expert then goes on to state that there are two fundamental problems with American, and specifically American rugby, that refs aren’t paid enough and that refs aren’t accountable.   Let’s start with accountability.  Mr Clipfton states that the only person who would ever referee is an egomaniacal masochist.   Why?  Because he abuses referees.  Apparently his players abuse referees.   Also, his spectators abuse referees.   And yet, with all of this abuse he has the gall to suggest that “back-chat penalties are flung around with too much freedom every weekend”.




What does that tell me?   It tells me that for the teams he is associated with the players, coaches and fans spend a lot of time abusing referees and then complaining about being penalized for it.   That sounds like poor coaching and a toxic culture to me and I am glad we don’t, or rarely have that kind of thing out here in Pelicanland.   Possibly a look in the mirror would be more appropriate than slinging blame at the referee.   Respect is the cornerstone of this game we all love and it starts with respect for the referee.


He continues his diatribe against referee accountability by stating that, well, we aren’t.   Players and coaches train twice a week while referees sit on their butts.   We don’t watch film or talk to players and coaches so only feedback available is the rare evaluation.  Players have a won-loss record to measure themselves by but referees have nothing and we are fine with that because players and coaches “like to win, and referees never get to win”.   Well maybe it is like that out in his part of the country but we here in Pelicanland have strong an organization that not only includes monthly meetings where we discuss laws, technique and other topics (see announcement below for next meeting!) but we also have over 20 certified referee coaches.    We talk to each other via email, send videos, ask questions.   We have workout schedules and fitness tests.    How many players can get to level 13 on the beep test?    Or level 11?  That is the standard for A and B Panel referees and we have many who meet or exceed it here.    As for winning?   Referees tend to be some of the most competitive people you will ever meet, but we don’t judge our “wins” on point totals.   We judge it on control, number of penalties (and penalties avoided), number of cards and, above all, respect.   Not as easy to quantify but it is there and is very satisfying.


The other big topic he discusses is money.  If only we paid referees all would be gravy and unicorns.  His initial complaint is “when my local area and territorial unions dissolved as USA Rugby went to the geographical union model, combined there was a surplus of upwards of $100,000 to be dealt with. That means members were charged upwards of $100,000 in membership fees over the years without receiving the value of their investment. Made my stomach turn a bit. “


Where did he get this $100,000 figure?   To start, Local Area Unions did NOT dissolve with the switch to a Geographical Union model – Northern California Rugby Football Union still exists, as does Southern California, Pacific Northwest, Met NY, Heart of America (Clifton’s own LAU), ect… they all still exist.   What no longer exists are Territorial Unions and if his Territory had $100,000 when it broke up, then that is something different.   When the Pacific Coast was dissolved they had a surplus of money (nowhere near $100K) that was earmarked for Grizzly events so to spend it they arranged a couple of Grizzly tours and went out in style using the money exactly as it was allocated, for a Pacific Coast Grizzly representative tour.   Mt Clifton apparently doesn’t realize that a TU (or a LAU) is NOT the same as a referee society.    I really don’t see any local referee society in the world with that kind of cash lying around and probably not even a national society.    Don’t start blaming the referees for monetary irregularities of the TU.


He now turns his attention to referee payments and comes out with some numbers he made up.   Remember, however, that paying referees is a very new concept.  We volunteered our time before and many referees still refuse payment, doing what they do for the love of the game.   He continues, “I get there are operating costs for referee societies. They pay out mileage, and sometimes they fly in better referees for bigger games. They occasionally pay for evaluators. There is kit, maybe a recruitment budget, money set aside for development, etc. “    Glad to see he recognizes that there is overhead to running a referee society, although when referees are flown in to Pelicanland for matches the quality usually goes down.  We are, in fact, a net exporter of top referees for big matches.  (HA!)    He then proposes that referee fees be raised to $300/game, pay the ref $200/game and $40 ea for ARs (he calls them line judges because, you know, he is an experienced referee).   Sounds great, I would love to get $200 per match.   Now we here in Northern California charge $100 per match and I would like to have him explain to the clubs why they are having their match fees tripled with no change in service, because, trust me on this, you will never be able to find enough referees and ARs to send a team of three to every match.   Not even close.   In Pelicanland most B side matches go uncovered and during the meat of the season several referees do double duty, and we are one of if not the strongest societies in the country.  Now you are magically going to find touch judges for all of these matches as well?


The tripling of referee fees would cause several clubs to fold because they can’t afford the referees – how would that be good for rugby?   This may not have occurred to Mr Clifton because his bio lists him as the Head Coach and Director of Rugby at Lindenwood University (although strangely the team’s website and USA Rugby page lists JD Stephenson) and Lindenwood is a varsity program.  Well done them, but that tells me the players aren’t paying for referee fees out of their club dues, the University is taking care of that.


If this was an April Fools joke then consider me well and truly fooled.    If not, and I suspect not, Pat Clifton is demonstrating the critical thinking acumen of a concussed duckling and the complex problem solving abilities of Donald Trump discussing foreign policy.   This section was originally much longer but I had to edit it down because it was becoming redundant (You see what he just said?  Here is why he is wrong).   The astounding ignorance and pure condescension exhibited in this article, to borrow Mr Clifton’s own phrase, turns my stomach.


Pro Rugby Update


Last week’s HP had a passionate defense of and plea to support Pro Rugby from Dr Bruce Carter.  I was fired up and have been eagerly scouring all news sources for updates, promotions, advertisement, ect.    Curious at not finding anything I sent a request to the Associated Press about Pro Rugby and got this response:


“Chirrup, chirrup.”



Let us be clear here, the only reason you, dear reader, and the editorial staff here at HP even know about the existence of Pro Rugby is because we are connected to the rugby community.    I have not been able to find any outside source mentioning the existence of a league that is set to kick off their inaugural season in a couple of weeks.   This is a pattern that has been consistent since the announcement of the league – a complete information blackout when the polar opposite is what was called for.   Even finding out basics like how many teams were in the league and where these teams would be located was like pulling teeth but less painful.   The latest move, to ask for unpaid “social media ambassadors” to generate publicity is typical of the whole process, because, you know, Facebook and Twitter are free.    This is supposed to be a professional operation, not another semipro, volunteer driven enterprise.   For details on how well that works see the Super League.


Make no mistake, the US needs a professional league if we have any ambitions to play with the rest of the world, but this needs to be a successful pro league, not a flash in the pan XFL league.   If you don’t have the  money to fund it, then DON’T DO IT.   If you aren’t organized enough to start then DON’T START.  A failed league would do more harm than no league at all as it would just reinforce the perception that Americans won’t care about rugby.


Pro Rugby needs to hire professional PR and marketing people and not rely on the untrained fan with a Twitter account.   Because that always ends well.


Pro Rugby needs to send out regular press releases, blanket the media with details, tidbits and information.   Many sources will ignore it but some will not and the word will get out.  The PR and marketing people above should be calling sources directly and selling the league.


Pro Rugby can not rely on rugby players and rugby players alone to support the league, but that is what they are doing.   Pro Rugby needs to draw in casual fans who are new to the game and hook them.  Thus, the marketing mentioned above.


It may be too late to back out but this league looks to be set up to fail.   I really, really hope not, though.


Laying Down Some Knowledge

Our April Society meeting is coming up and on that note, a message from our Noble Leader, Pelicus Iudex Pennipes:


We are moving into playoff mode for the 2016 season and have a full slate of games through April.  Please note your availability in Assignr as far in advance as possible.


Our last society meeting for the 2016 season is set for April 13th, 7:00 PM, at the SFGG clubhouse on Treasure Island.  Our presenters will be:


  • Matt Hetterman: officiating the scrums
  • Tim Lew:  7’s officiating


Food will be provided.  We are asking those of you who have officiated matches that have resulted in ties to bring refreshments.  It’s better to provide a six pack now rather than buy at some more expensive event latter.  Please note we will be reviewing the match scores and taking notes


Eternal Pelicus At The Meeting

More from Pelicus Iudex Pennipes:


Immediately following the presentation Pelicus Pedem Referre (James Hinkin) will be facilitating the naming of our new officials.  To my knowledge we have several officials that are new to our flock and have yet to receive their Pelican names.  While this might be an oversight it is none the less unacceptable.  Those officials that have yet to claim their rightful nomenclature may find themselves with names they might not appreciate: Pelicus Littlus Dickus is just one example.  Newbies, please visit the website, review the criteria, and present your pelicus name to the society’s scribe, James Hinkin, prior to the society meeting.  If you don’t the flock will be forced to name you

Final Meeting Notes – Kit

If you have not received your kit for this year please show up to the meeting or make arrangements.   This is by far the easiest way to get your kit as logistically it is difficult to get them out to more remote Pelicans and may take some time.

Any kit left over at the end of the season will be made into a quilt to keep my toes warm next winter.

Ask A Pelican


Yes, it’s time for this week’s installment of “Ask A Pelican”, the widely loved Q and A session with Hail Pelicus.   This week’s question comes from Edward Nigma, of Question Mark, CA who asks:


“Riddle me this.   If there is rugby year round and referees for these matches, why does the NCRRS stop having monthly meetings in May?”


Thank you for your question, Mr Nigma and that is quite the conundrum you have postulated.  The simple answer is this: by the time May rolls around we know everything.


Disciplinary Action Reporting – Process For Reporting Incidents


The various competitions all have their own disciplinary chairs and this will make it difficult to centralize the communication and data.  To help Scott Wood has developed a form that will centralize the process, regardless of the competition.  The link to the discipline form is

  1. Copy the link and have it available on your smartphone.  If you have an Iphone add the link to your home screen.
  2. When needed fill it out and click submit.  The discipline chair of the competition you refereed will receive a notification about the incident.
  3. He/she may contact you latter for more details.
  4. If you have any questions as to how to use the app please refer to the the following video:


On To The Game Reports!


We are again starting off with a report from back east.   All of these exotic club names and places makes one truly aware of the global reach of this fine sport.  I mean, there is not a “Los”, “Las”, “San” or “Santa” anywhere to be found.   Amazing.


Date: 03/26/2016

Prince William County 57 – North Bay Div 4 21

Location: Aberdeen, MD

Referee: Valerio, Stephen


A week after being in the snow Saturday was sunny and in the 60s. I was looking forward to a great day of rugby when my app took me to a dead end, supposedly where the pitch was. Luckily I had a call with someone familiar with the area and he mentioned that the pitch was behind a Home Depot, so I doubled backed and circled the store to find a small gravel path that led to the pitch which was squeezed between the Home Depot, a residential neighborhood and a highway.


Prince William County came up from Virginia in a tight race for the Central championship and the opportunity for promotion and it showed from the kick-off. Despite a soft pitch, Prince William County raced out to a quick 35-0 lead at the half. However, North Bay played it tight in the second half, but found the deficit too much to overcome. I had to decline North Bay’s barbecue hospitality due to a pending dinner with the in-laws, but hopefully will get a chance to sample it in the future.


Date: 03/24/2016

Solano 26 – Jesuit 60

Referee: Boyer, Rich


Thursday night lights, Solo v. Jesuit.  Two of the top high school teams in the nation squared off in a Premier division match.  Jesuit struck first on a penalty kick, followed shortly thereafter with a converted try.  Solo then seemed to shake off the cobwebs and put together multiple phase ball earning them a penalty kick.  The teams parried back and forth, with Jesuit scoring converted tries and Solo hanging around with penalty kicks.  22-9 at half.  The Solo wing collected the second half restart and scorched down the sidelines to make it 22-14.  But Jesuit would answer back, as they did all night, with another converted try.  Very good backline phases and overlaps were frequent when Jesuit had the ball.  Solo had to work harder to find gaps, with their excellent flyhalf stepping half gaps and placing strategic pop kicks into space for his Solo players to collect.   In the end Jesuit enjoyed the majority of ball and made the most of it.  Thayer at flanker was dead on with kicks (7/8 on conversions and 2/2 on penalties).  Credit to Solo, they never quit and ended up scoring the last try.  A clean, well played match with very good tactics.



Date: 03/26/2016

Aptos 75 – SF Fog 10

Referee: Bernstein, Bruce


Beautiful day & field on top a hill , drive to Preston Park by CSUMB & Ft. Ord in Marina & back with a late lunch stop @ Phil’s Fish Market for Happy Hour half priced white sangrias & Blackened Scallops & a stop in Santa Cruz.  Good competitive fairly played 3rd side match but Aptos was much quicker with more numbers & long runs by their fullback & outside center in the 1st half leading 35-5 while their forwards had some good runs in the 2nd half (adding 40-5).  Nice BBQ after match right at park,



Date: 03/26/2016

Baracus B 50 – Berkeley B 55

Referee: Madsen, Erik


This was a match delayed due to rain and played just before Easter. With that, each team scraped up enough to put 12 on the field for both sides. BA put on a lot of points in the first half with great offloads and big breaks. The story of the second half was just the opposite with Berkeley doing a lot of scoring. The back and forth sprint-a-thon ended 55-50 Berkeley.



Date: 03/26/2016

Chico St Women 58 – University of Washington 3

Referee: Hettermann, Matt


Chico St. Women book a spot in the national round of 8 – including a perfectly executed drop goal …



Date: 03/26/2016

Chico State 47 – UCSC 12

Referee: Pescetti, David


No report received



Date: 03/26/2016

Chico State B 3 – UCSC B 0

Referee: Hosley, David


The Chico coach informed me after I had inspected the field and met both coaches and came back for captains that the match had been forfeited by UCSC, due to lack of players and men from the Chico senior team would fill in for UCSC.  I went on with the match, as both sides had a number of new players, a number of which had traveled a long ways to play.  Final score was CSU Chico 334, UCSC 29.



Date: 03/26/2016

Google 29 – South Valley 8

Referee: Simko, Paul


Saturday night game at the GarField at the Googleplex.  This was a hard hitting game that was closer than the final score, but sloppiness at the breakdown and penalties were the difference.  The first half was close and started out with some strange events.  Two guys banged heads less than a minute into the match that sent one to the hospital for the 3 inch gash on his forehead.  A little later in the match, I saw a head bounce off the turf about 2 feet back up.  Finally the injury spirits went away and South Valley started out with a penalty kick to take the lead.  Later, Google started the most impressive maul on a lineout at the 10 meter line and went all the way into goal.  South Valley did their part by holding the ball up in goal.  Google scored soon after on a quick tap on a penalty.  Google went in for another try but was tripped by a South Valley player, resulting in a penalty try and a yellow card.  12-8 at the half.  The second half was all Google.



Date: 03/26/2016

Humboldt State 0 – Santa Rosa JC 64

Referee: Bertolone, Cary


Drizzling at the 2:00PM kickoff, turning to light rain, only the fans noticed. Started off pretty even with both teams making big hits and nice tackles. Finally, at the 20 minute mark, SRJC put one in and it was 7-0. They scored again at 25 minutes in, but with two late in the half it was 26-0 at the half. The score was lopsided, but the game was pretty evenly played in the first half with Santa Rosa having better downfield support enabling them to score.

The second half started out even, again, but after 10 minutes, Santa Rosa dominated with their big backs crashing and great follow up by their forwards. Mikey Tomasin is a great scrumhalf for Rosa, his father being the Rosa men’s team scrummy for 20 years (Doc Tomasin), who was there to watch. No cards all game. Humboldt has a lot of young players, so good luck next year. SRJC is off to Southern Cal next weekend, as the number 2 seed {behind Cal Maritime as the number 1 seed) . Good luck to all in the playoffs!



Date: 03/26/2016

Humboldt State Women 66 – UNR Women 12

Referee: Bretz, Paul


Too many weapons for Humboldt State and too few options for UNR led to the one sided affair.  UNR never gave up and for their efforts scored the last try in the closing stanza of play.   Thanks go out to Robert and Eric for running the lines and a big shout out to Pete Smith for providing match commentary.



Date: 03/26/2016

Mendocino 17 – Reno 31

Referee: Byrnes, Bryant


Your father’s bare knuckled rugby, just you and me. In the lovely and green outback of northern Northern California, Reno-who for the second week in a row drove four and a half hours-had 15 players; Meno had about 17. And some damn fool had a drone over the field for part of the game.


The first half was exploratory surgery-Mendo ahead 10-7 at 40 minutes. The second half was all Reno. Their superior back line-it must be said-asserted itself and scored four tries. In the last ten minutes, unhappily there were some unanticipated failures to adhere to the core value of sportsmanship. Such is life in D3.



Date: 03/26/2016

Modesto 76 – Marin 10

Referee: Fenaroli, Steven


Kudos and thanks to Scott Wood for joining me for the day to give me some feedback. It’s always nice to have someone to give you immediate feedback. Onto the setup, the pitch was wonky from the start. 22m was not at the appropriate place, the flags were on the wrong markings. Then during a break away, there were a number of issues with one of the people running touch and one even had to be removed to avoid further abuse. Modesto had limited numbers but both teams were ready for a match. Modesto took a commanding lead with break always and chip kicks that broke through the defensive line. I knew about 10 minutes into things that spring had arrived when I found myself warm and sweaty. It’s nice to have the sun back but I think we will be relishing the 60 degree weather soon enough. Marin kept battling and managed two tries. Spirits were high and the game was enjoyable.



Date: 03/26/2016

Riordan  26 – Danville 49

Referee: Travitz, Jason


Beautiful day at Treasure Island (in Michigan it would be the start of the spring season and snowing / raining / freezing cold).

Score was Danville 25 – Roirdan 12 at the end of the first half, including two PKs from the Danville kicker

Final score was Danville 49 – Riordan 26

Danville moved the ball wide and had a number of long runs with a couple ending in tries.  Riordan forwards moved the ball forward with hard runs when they had possession.



Date: 03/26/2016

Sacramento Amazons 0 – Danville 0

Referee: Wilson, Giles


Saturday is a rugby day and this day started out with the promise of a top girl’s HS game. I arrived at the field in time to catch up with Neil MacDonald at half time of his game between the Blackhawks and EPA Razorbacks. As I wandered around the field I bumped into several old friends including Terry Gascoigne and Dan Rose before having a brief chat with Luke Gross who was out in the sun with his young baby to watch some rugby.


As the men’s game finished, I became concerned about the absence of either the Sacramento Amazons or the Danville Oaks. I started making calls to see who knew what.


About the time that I spoke with Mark Carney, who hadn’t heard anything, Terry heard from one of the Sacramento people that “Danville had forfeited” on Saturday morning. I was soon called back by both the girl’s rep for NorCal rugby and then Mark to confirm that the game was not going to happen. They had not been advised in advance and I’m sure will be seeking explanations for why the scheduled game between the nationally #1 ranked team vs #6 ranked team, failed to happen.


The lack of respect shown by both teams to the league and the game in general for failing to notify anyone is appalling; the fact that I drove 170 miles for no reason is insignificant when it seems likely that two other teams had no referee.



Date: 03/26/2016

UC Davis 96 – Arizona State 10

Referee: Carney, Mark


It was a one sided affair from the get go. Stand out performances from UCD 12, 3 and 6. On the ASU side, #’s 15 and 9 had good games, but as teams, the UCD side clearly out performed ASU in every facet of the game.



Date: 03/26/2016

USF 0 – Cal Maritime 49

Referee: McDougall, Grant


Cal Maritime dominated the game with a strong forward play.



Date: 03/26/2016

USF Women 25 – Fresno State Women 59

Referee: Leisek, Joe


A wonderful rugby Saturday at the West Coast Conference championships, held at Cal Maritime. USF coach/conference commissioner/NCRRS board member Vicki Hudson organized a first-class event, complete with a referee’s tent featuring snacks, drinks, and comfortable chairs. (Thank you, Vicki.) Referees in attendance included Paul Bretz, who refereed the DII match, and assistant referees Eric Rauscher and Robert Hammack, who worked both games. Stadium announcer Pete Smith earned positive reviews for his commentary. Members of the Santa Clara women’s rugby club volunteered as #4-5-6 officials, as well as other tasks. Truly a fantastic rugby event.


First up was the DIII title game between Fresno State and USF. The two teams quickly made it clear they were there to play an open game with multiple phases and distribution of the ball out wide. Fresno won most of the set pieces in the first half and moved forward through many attempted tackles. The teams were a little more evenly matched in the second half, as USF played much better defensively. This game was a pleasure to referee, as both teams gave it their all and really focused on their game plans.


Many thanks to Eric and Robert for their help and to Paul for providing a coaching report.


The women’s rugby blog The Breakdown ( provides a great account of the match. Here’s an excerpt of the post by editor Jackie Finlan:


“The West Coast conference named its first-ever DIII champion on Saturday, and both finalists are advancing to the next stage of regional playoffs. The DIII championship preceded the DII title match, which occurred on the idyllic campus of the Cal Maritime Academy. The University of San Francisco entered the match as the top seed, but Fresno State was the more polished side in the 59-25 win.


“Within the first minute of play, eventual MVP Stephanie Rovetti tore down the sideline for the first of her five tries for Fresno State. The grad student is a former basketball player for BYU and Fresno State, and younger sister to former BYU All American Morgan, who currently plays for Life West. Rovetti is in her first year as a rugby player and she lined up against USF freshmen along the sideline. Fresno did well to continually move the ball and spread the field, and that was enough room for Rovetti to slip through the defense.


“USF enjoyed the lead during the first quarter, answering Rovetti’s opening try and then tacking on a crowd-pleasing drop goal from flyhalf and captain Sydney Abel. But then the Fresno forwards took over and continued to steal USF’s scrums for more and more possession. USF shored up the set piece in the second half and stole some put-ins of its own, but the Bulldogs made good use of ball in hand to pull away in the first half.


“Outside center Jacklyn Blankenship, flanker Nikki Wheeler and Rovetti (2) dotted down pull-away tries, breaking lots of tackles along the way, and fullback Cady Riley handled the extras. USF No. 8 Sydney Beyma powered over the line for a dive-over try to end the half, giving Fresno a 31-13 lead into the break.


“Things looked bleak as Fresno sent inside center Jenna Balestra across for another try, and Riley’s conversion produced a 38-13 scoreline. But then Beyma – a tall, powerful volleyball convert who is still learning the game – dotted down back-to-back tries, 38-25.


“But Fresno stuck to the game plan, moving the ball wide to Rovetti for two more tries and another from hooker Clarissa Sparks for the 59-25 win.”



This Week’s Photo

The door to the referee changing room at SFGG leaves no doubt as to where you are.

Pelican Door

Hail, Pelicus!

For the Senate

Pelicus Pedem Referre


James Hinkin
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