It’s the time of the season when awards start getting handed out to the deserving in Scottish Rugby. I was at such an event in Glasgow last Thursday but the person who was top of my list didn’t receive an honour or even get a mention.

It wasn’t a coach or a player but history-making referee Hollie Davidson who will be the first female to officiate at a game involving world champions South Africa. That is a very big deal.

After her best ever season as a referee the 31-year-old from Aboyne, who will have her fellow Scots Mike Adamson as one of her assistant referees and Andrew McMenemy as her TMO, has been rewarded by World Rugby for her performances by being named as the person in charge of the Springboks match against Portugal in Bloemfontein in July.

Scotland Rugby News: Referee Hollie DavidsonReferee Hollie Davidson (Image: PA)

Although times have changed it would be naïve to think it has been easy for Davidson as a woman to be totally accepted as a rugby referee which is why her success is a cause for celebration. Some dinosaurs still struggle to watch the women’s game let alone accept that one of the top rugby referees in the world is a woman.

Only two months ago there was a high profile incident when a well-known player showed a lack of respect towards a woman referee in a URC club game that brought shame to the game.

Although he subsequently apologised two-time South African World Cup winner Bongi Mbonambi was widely chastised for his behaviour towards referee Aimee Barrett- Theron in a match between Sharks and the Lions. She had summoned him to her as the Sharks captain for a discussion about a disallowed try but he turned his back on her and walked away as she was still explaining her decision. 

It was rude and disrespectful and the question has to be asked whether he would have behaved in the same way to a male referee?

Barrett-Theron was praised for the way she diffused the potential flashpoint by saying to him : “I fully respect you and who you are, and I am well aware that all of your players have probably played more games than I have refereed in the URC but we are on the same field so if you could show me the same respect that I show you, that would be appreciated.’’

Mbonambi, who is likely to play for South Africa against Portugal in the game that Davidson will take charge of in two months time, has hopefully learned his lesson from that encounter.

Davidson, who turned to referring in 2015 after a shoulder injury cut short her playing career, has made it to the top off the back of sheer hard work. She was the SRU’s first full-time professional female referee in 2017 and has smashed through glass ceiling after glass ceiling ever since.

She has officiated at the Commonwealth Games, World Cup sevens and the women’s Six Nations. On top of that she has taken charge of high profile matches in the PRO14 including the 2022 derby between Glasgow Warriors and Edinburgh.

Later that same year she became the first woman to referee a men’s Six Nations team when Italy played Portugal.

She made history again later that year when she became the first female to be part of an officiating team in a Guinness men’s Six Nations fixture when she was an assistant referee when England beat Wales at Twickenham.

Now a fixture with her in charge involving the world champions in their own backyard now beckons.

As a Scottish sporting ambassador the Edinburgh University economic history graduate is second to none and is an inspiration to other women who are considering becoming a referee, not just in rugby, but in any sport.

Why her achievements haven’t been acknowledged more by the general Scottish sporting public is beyond me. Going forward that has to change.

Going back to the awards ceremony on Thursday the winners voted for by Scottish rugby journalists including myself weren’t my choices. Glasgow Warriors centre Sione Tuipulotu was named men’s player of the year. He was on my short list but I am not sure how Duhan van der Merwe didn’t pick up the award.

His historic three tries for Scotland against England in the Six Nations may never happen again. He also had a better World Cup than Tuipulotu, although that isn’t saying much as in the big games against South Africa and Ireland the whole Scotland team under-performed.

Alex Stewart was named Scotland’s women’s player of the year but she didn’t get my vote. She played well during the season and is more one for the future. Rachel Malcolm was Scotland’s captain fantastic during the Six Nations for me.

Let’s not forget finishing fourth was a poor show by the Scotland women and only a few deserved pass marks.

Malcolm was the best and most consistent player over the tournament. She was by far my women’s player of the year. Her importance to the Scottish cause should never be taken for granted.

The third and final award ‘winner’ on Thursday that was voted for by the public puzzled me. I will never be mistaken for a ray of sunshine but the ‘defining moment of the season’ for me was a positive rather than a negative one.

Van der Merwe’s hat-trick of tries against England as I mentioned earlier was a good as it gets as it secured four Calcutta Cup wins in a row.

Yet the ‘defining moment of the season’ was judged to be Sam Skinner’s disallowed last-minute Six Nations try against France.

Yes, it looked like the ball had been grounded but the referee ruled it wasn’t conclusive, disallowed the scorer and the game was lost. That’s a ‘what if,’ rather than defining moment to me.

Scotland fans could cover the walls with cuttings from ‘what if’ moments from big matches. Peter Dods missed conversion attempt in the last minute of the 25-25 draw against the All Blacks that would have secured a famous first ever win over New Zealand back in 1983. Gavin Hastings missed a kick at goal from in front of the posts that cost Scotland victory over England in the 1991 World Cup semi-final.

The referee wrongly awarding England a last-minute penalty that handed England an undeserved win over Scotland in the 1994 Five Nations at Murrayfield. Stuart Hogg being chased down by Beauden Barrett as he nearly scored in the corner against New Zealand at Murrayfield in 2017.

Scotland Rugby News: Beauden Barrett's tackle denied Stuart Hogg in 2017 Beauden Barrett's tackle denied Stuart Hogg in 2017 (Image: SNS)

The disallowed try against France wasn’t a ‘defining moment’ as calling it that suggests that Scotland were hard done by and could have gone on to take the Six Nations title. The win over England was terrific but was followed by defeats to Italy and Ireland so let’s have a reality check please.

The cancelled out score against the French was nothing more than yet another example of a Scottish rugby hard luck story and we have had so many through the years that I am heart sick of them.

Told you I could never be mistaken for a ray of sunshine.

Scottish Rugby Writers award winners

Performance Men’s Player of the Season: Sione Tuipulotu (Glasgow Warriors and Scotland)

Performance Women’s Player of the Season: Alex Stewart (Edinburgh and Scotland)

Club Rugby Men’s Player of the Season: Jae Linton (Hawick) 

Club Women’s Player of the Season: Ceitidh Ainsworth (Stirling County)

Defining Moment of the Season: Sam Skinner’s disallowed try for Scotland against France

The Spirit of Rugby Community Hero Season 2023-24: James Moncur for his work with the Fife Clan Mixed Ability Rugby Team

Rugby Photograph of the Season: Malcolm Mackenzie: Duhan van der Merwe scores for Scotland against England

The Rugby Writers Recognition Award: David Barnes