Canadian Maggie Cogger-Orr to referee Rugby World Cup opener in New Zealand

When South Africa and France kick off the Women’s Rugby World Cup in New Zealand on Saturday, a Canadian will whistle to get the party started.

When South Africa and France kick off the Women’s Rugby World Cup in New Zealand on Saturday, a Canadian will whistle to get the party started.

Transplanted Canuck Maggie Cogger-Orr will referee the opener at Eden Park at her adopted Auckland home. The 12-country contest was originally scheduled to start in September 2021 but was postponed due to the pandemic.

“I think it’s a really cool opportunity to kick off a tournament that’s been a long time coming, with COVID and all that stuff like that,” Cogger-Orr said. “I feel really lucky to be the person who blew the first whistle to start it all.”

Like Cogger-Orr, the whistle in question is in motion.

Adventurers Ron Rutland and Adam Nunn cycled 16,500 kilometers from Tokyo to Auckland to blow the opening game whistle. Their 210-day trip to 14 countries, dubbed the Race to Rugby World Cup, is raising money for charity.

It’s been a big year on the court for Cogger-Orr, 30. She made her refereeing debut as a referee in the Women’s Six Nations in Europe in April and has also refereed test matches in Australia, Japan and New Zealand.

Saturday marks his eighth test match. Cogger-Orr will also referee the Japan-Italy game and work the United States-Japan game as an assistant referee in the first-round games.

His parents are flying in from Canada to attend a game of the tournament.

Canadians Julianne Zussman and Chris Assmus are also tournament officials – Zussman, a former Canada international, as assistant referee and Assmus as television match official (TMO). The two Canadians were also part of the Women’s Six Nations earlier this year.

The tournament’s referee panel includes 14 women – nine referees and five assistant referees – with four male TMOs.

Officials for the eight World Cup knockout matches will be chosen on merit by World Rugby.

Cogger-Orr is no stranger to Eden Park, having officiated a recent women’s Test match between New Zealand and Japan there in a doubles match with the men’s Bledisloe Cup match between the All Blacks and the All Blacks. ‘Australia. The 50,000 seat stadium is the largest in New Zealand.

Cogger-Orr grew up in Markham, Ontario before moving to Ottawa where she attended Ashbury College. She did her Bachelor of Commerce at McMaster, playing rugby with the Marauders for four years.

A year later, in 2014, she moved to New Zealand “probably a little (because of) rugby and a little school”, she explained.

Cogger-Orr wanted to become a teacher and pursue rugby. At the time, Christchurch was recruiting people to return after the area was hit by earthquakes, and the University of Canterbury beckoned.

“If you play rugby, the opportunity to come to New Zealand and see how you stack up here was a really great opportunity,” said Cogger-Orr, who has represented Ontario and Canada at the U.S. level. age while playing club rugby for the Toronto Scots.

She had not planned to stay in New Zealand. But unlike Canada, there was a shortage of teachers and she got a job after graduation.

“The more I got involved in rugby here and the more I started to settle my life here, the more permanent it became,” she said.

Today, Cogger-Orr is an accounting and economics teacher at Westlake Girls’ High School. She’s taking five weeks off for the World Cup, with another two weeks covered by the Kiwi version of spring break.

She loves life in New Zealand, calling it “the travel version of Canada”.

“We both have mountains. We both have oceans. We both have beaches. We both have lakes,” she said. “Geographically, there are often places that are very similar, especially the west coast of Canada… And I also think culturally – two countries that love sports, that really, really love sports and love people who support him. Two countries that are very friendly, very open to new people.”

The Australia-New Zealand dynamic is also reminiscent of the Canada-US relationship, she added.

“It’s an easy change moving here and it’s definitely become a place that has definitely become a home for me here,” said Cogger-Orr who lives with her English partner Chris as well as a cat.

Cogger-Orr played for her college club team the year she lived in Canterbury before joining legendary club side College Rifles in Auckland.

She had refereed at home after suffering a knee injury in her third season with McMaster. She took the whistle when cleared to run, but not for contact.

It turned out to be the first step to being the center of a World Cup opener.

At the time, Cogger-Orr viewed refereeing as something she could take up if her playing career did not lead to a World Cup. Her last year of playing was in 2016 when the College Rifles won the New Zealand Women’s Club Championship.

“I was like, ‘This seems like a good place to get off the bus and go to refereeing and try properly,'” said Cogger-Orr, who is now a permanent resident of New Zealand.

Cogger-Orr rose through the refereeing ranks, working at the highest level of women’s club rugby as well as the region’s men’s rugby. She hopes to officiate the next game of the National Provincial Championship, the lower tier in the men’s top-flight Super Rugby competition.

She feels that the split between men’s and women’s matches is fairly even throughout the year.

How Cogger-Orr got into rugby is another story.

At 13, she decided she wanted to play men’s soccer at Ashbury College. It was a small school so volunteers were welcome with Cogger-Orr playing defensive back.

“Beauty was in grades 9 and 10, I was almost the same height as I am now,” said Cogger-Orr, who is five-foot-five. “So I was already an adult and as tall as most boys.”

As the boys got older, she mostly played on special teams due to the height gap.

One day after practice, the rugby coach approached her and invited her to join his team. The coach was former Canadian international Jen Boyd, now head coach of the Ottawa Gee-Gees women’s team.

Cogger-Orr played both sports until high school, also participating in men’s ice hockey since there was no women’s team.

Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on October 6, 2022

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

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