David Sutherland: from the first game to the last

David Sutherland: from the first game to the last

Back in November 2019, the FOSROC Super6 got underway for the first time as Stirling County beat Boroughmuir Bears at Meggetland with referee David Sutherland in the middle. In a fitting “full circle” moment, it will also be David who takes charge of tonight’s final, which will see a Super Series trophy lifted for the last time. 

David’s refereeing career, though relatively short at the time, had already seen him reach near to what was the heights of the domestic game before Super Series. 

“I had been refereeing for two or three seasons when Super Series started, and I had refereed the Scottish Cup final the season before, so for me it was quite a nice, natural progression,” he explained. “There wasn’t really a step up from that in the country at the point, you were having to go out of the country. We used to go to France for exchanges, go to other countries to experience professional level because in Scotland the next thing was Glasgow and Edinburgh and you weren’t going to go straight into the URC from the club game. 

“So it was nice for me to go from doing a decent level domestically to then being able to step up again. A lot of the guys I had refereed in the Premiership went on to play in Super Series so I had a relationship with them already.” 

It wasn’t just players and coaches but also referees who were given a platform to bridge the gap between domestic and professional rugby when Super Series started. David and his peers were looking forward to the opportunity.  

“I think as a group of referees, everyone was just pretty excited about it. Obviously the competition was brought in to help players, coaches and then referees ultimately step up to the professional game, because there was quite a large gulf between club rugby and the professional game. Nobody really knew what it was going to be like, we had a plan of how we want to referee it as a group of referees, and I think it was just a bit of general excitement about something new, something that had never been done in Scotland before.” 

Sutherland has gone on to be involved in the Super Series every year since its inception, and has seen how the standard of the competition has improved year on year, as well as his own personal performances. 

“In the competition, the standard has gone up every year I think. The players are well coached, they understand a game plan, they’re pretty well conditioned. For me, I’ve just really enjoyed being part of it. Certainly having the Sprint in the spring time and the main competition summer to autumn, you’ve got guys who are playing on good pitches with a dry ball who want to play quick, attacking rugby. You’ve seen games with really high scores, lots of ball in play time, lots of tries, which is ultimately what the fans want to see.  

“I haven’t done it, but I imagine if I looked back to that first game to where I am five years later, I just feel a lot more rounded as a referee. Just having those experiences have definitely helped, being put under pressure more often. Ian Kenny is a great example, he refereed with me at the start of Super Series and has gone to referee in the URC this season and has done really well. In terms of my own development, I’m night and day compared to where I was at five years ago. I have more confidence to go out and perform at a more professional level than what I did previously.” 

Like others, David’s experience at Super Series level has helped him push on into the professional game, where he has been a TMO and assistant referee in the Champions Cup, Challenge Cup and United Rugby Championship this season. 

“I’ve been an assistant referee and a TMO in European cups and the URC this season. I ran touch for Mike Adamson in his Northampton v Munster game. I do think the environment of Super Series prepares you, it’s not as daunting a prospect to go into the full professional ranks.  

“I was TMO in an 1872 Cup game this season for Sam Grove-White, and there’s a lot of players in the Glasgow and Edinburgh teams who have played Super Series so you have a relationship with them. In that very first game, I think Johnny Matthews was playing for Boroughmuir Bears, he’s now doing really well for Glasgow and Scotland. Tom Jordan played for Ayrshire Bulls, I think he got Player of the Match in one of the finals and has now pushed on to Glasgow. Kaleem Baretto, he was Boroughmuir Bears and is now part of GB7s, so seeing these guys go on and do so well at professional level, it shows you that there’s the opportunity for you to step up to that level as well if you work hard.” 

Looking ahead to tonight’s fixture, David is hoping for the competition to bow out with a bang, not just for the teams involved but for the officiating team too. 

“When we knew the Super Series was finishing, and having been involved from the start, you never really target these things but you just want to do well in the earlier rounds and give yourself a chance, and thankfully I’ve been given the game tonight. I’m really looking forward to it, hopefully the two teams and the officials can perform really well and just put on a spectacle that’s fitting of what Super Series has been.” 

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