Diminutive, slight and softly spoken, it’s difficult to believe that Natalie Gregory commands a field of towering rugby giants as a referee.

Most recently she grabbed her whistle for the Rosslyn Park Rugby 7s Tournament – the largest school rugby tournament in the world. However, as a member of the London Society of Rugby Football Union Referees (LSRFUR), she referees for men, women and children, and she has stepped out as an assistant referee on the hallowed grounds of The Stoop and and Surrey Sports Park.

The Gordon’s School A-level student is also in demand for school games.

She grew up on the touchlines of Chobham Rugby Club, watching her younger brother play before donning the red and yellow shirt for the girls when she was eight years old. She still plays for the under-18s and women’s team at Chobham. Her parents joined in the action too, with her mother playing walking rugby and her father playing touch rugby.

Almost two years ago, she took the Take up the Whistle course with the LSRFUR, then achieved her Level 2 England Rugby Referees Award qualification.

Natalie Gregory in action
Natalie Gregory in action (Gordon's School)

Since joining the society, she has refereed all sorts of games, from under-14 boys to women’s games and men’s games, spending her weekends and any available time on the pitch. Rugby and refereeing have become her passion. “You meet so many people and there are so many opportunities for young match officials,” she said. “I love the rugby culture.”

Her father currently acts as her chauffeur to games and society meetings, and deals with her match official administration. Being a Young Match Official (YMO) means she has a referee mentor covering every game she is officiating, to provide feedback and advice. When she’s away from the pitch she’s watching games, playing and learning the intricacies of the laws of rugby.

Natalie is one of a few girls in the LSRFUR but is very positive about her membership. “When I first joined it did feel a bit of a boys’ club of grey haired men over the age of 50 but you just have to stand up for yourself,” she said. “There’s a community of girls and women in the society – we’re still working on getting girls’ kit as the current kit is tailored to men so shorts are never in the smaller sizes.

“Katrina Ham runs the LSRFUR YMO programme in the South West region and has been such an amazing advocate for female YMOs in the society. She’s been working relentlessly to find the right games for me, to provide the right level of challenge to enable me to progress.

“There are so many things that can happen in rugby. You have to be constantly in the play, in the middle of it. You have to make sure you are in the right position while also watching the ball and the players behind your back. Refereeing is all about selling the decisions you are making and attention to detail – knowing every single law inside out.

“There are so many people fighting in my corner. At Rosslyn Park I met Andrew Small, the RFU match official development officer, who heads the referee career pathway for England Rugby. I found out that someone in the society had told him to come and find me at Rosslyn to have a look at what I was doing and recommend pathways. You don’t even realise people are putting in a good word. It’s so lovely. If you are a girl that loves rugby and is looking for leadership opportunities, it’s perfect.”