A Warwick medical student will make his first overseas debut as one of the youngest rugby referees in the game when he travels to South Africa next month. Ralph Mitchell is just 22 years old, eight years younger than the average age of a rugby referee, and he will be flying out to officiate Schools and State Club Games in Durban.
Ralph, originally from Belfast, refereed for three years before moving to England to begin his course. He is training to become a doctor at Warwick Medical School and has just completed the first 18-month phase of his course. Since passing his overarching exam he has been embarked on an intense training programme. Ralph said: "When I get on that plane I need to be the fittest I can be. The heat will be in the early 30s and I will be refereeing in that heat for five or six hours a day."
The project has been organised by the Warwickshire Referees Society as part of the Rugby Football Union (RFU) and Ralph has been selected along with three other referees from the region. They have all been asked to raise money to cover travel expenses and Ralph has secured some funding from Warwick Medical School. He said: "I would like to visit some of the local hospitals while I am out there to volunteer my help as well. It is such a unique opportunity and I want to make the most of it." Ralph said rugby was taken very seriously in South Africa and he was prepared for some fierce criticism. He said: "Everyone and their granny knows about rugby there, you have to deal with the pressure. Get one decision wrong and all hell breaks loose."
Ralph's brother Gary has played rugby at an international level for the Ireland youth side. Ralph said: "I hope to reach the same level as Gary, he is also studying to become a doctor in Belfast so there is a lot of rivalry there. But at the same time I’m also immensely proud of him playing for his country. My parents are really pleased I have been given this opportunity and they have been a great support. I know medicine will take over my life at some point, but I want to look back and think I gave my rugby career everything I had."
If anyone would like to sponsor Ralph, please contact him on 07796 325012.
Kelly Parkes, Communications Officer
Warwick Medical School