When Chelsea Gillespie refereed at the Rugby World Cup Sevens in 2013, never could she have imagined it would take almost a decade to return to the international stage. 

When she took charge of those matches in Moscow 11 years ago, the New Zealand-born official was targeting earning a place among the officials for the 2016 Olympic Games.  

But shortly after returning home to Canterbury, she contracted meningitis – believed to have been from drinking out of a trophy at an awards evening where she was recognised for her refereeing efforts.  

She explained: “I was probably the fittest and healthiest I could be.  

"I went to an awards dinner and won a trophy. I didn’t think anything of taking a drink out of it.  

“At work on the Monday morning, I couldn’t see my screen properly and had a banging headache.” 

Scotland Rugby News: Chelsea Gillespie, nee Gurr, refereeing in her native New ZealandChelsea Gillespie, nee Gurr, refereeing in her native New Zealand (Image: Getty Images)

She spent a week in hospital, but only learned recently that nurses feared she may not survive. 

Chelsea added: “My mum was speaking to someone at her work, and it turns out she was my nurse when I was in hospital.  

"She asked how I was doing and said to my mum ’at times we didn’t know if she was going to make it. 

“To hear that 10 years after the fact is a bit more sobering than it was at the time. 

“You hear stories of people who have near-death experiences but I’ve never looked at it like that." 

She made a full recovery and returned to the World Sevens Series in 2014 before serving as an assistant for New Zealand’s win over Canada in June that year. 

That was her last match for almost a decade. She met and married Darren, the former Jed-Forest and Kelso man who represented Scotland in the abbreviated form of the game.  

Scotland Rugby News: Chelsea's husband, Darren Gillespie, here collecting the National League Division 1 Player of the Year award for 2018Chelsea's husband, Darren Gillespie, here collecting the National League Division 1 Player of the Year award for 2018 (Image: SNS)

They had two children and set up their own sports massage therapy business.  

She explained how she found a route back into refereeing in the Scottish Borders.  

Chelsea said: “We moved to Bury St Edmonds and the season was almost over, but I did a couple of games here and there. 

“We came back up to Jedburgh and got engaged, then we had kids probably a lot faster than we thought we would.  

“I was at a ladies day with some friends and Iain Heard was refereeing. I knew him from the Amsterdam Sevens years ago, and I gave him a bit of lip from the sidelines, and he suggested I should give it a go.  

"Referee numbers are pretty dire and I wanted to give back, so I started helping out and got the buzz back.” 

Scotland Rugby News: Chelsea Gillespie in action at Hawick Sevens 2019.Chelsea Gillespie in action at Hawick Sevens 2019. (Image: Borders Rugby Referees' Society)

Gillespie said the time away, and becoming a mother, afforded her a different outlook on her second chance at refereeing on the international stage.  

“I’d always put a lot of pressure on myself,” she said.  

“I had certain goals in mind and when you have nothing else going on, you can be fully immersed in that world.  

"This time round, I can enjoy it. It does give you a different perspective. You can take it in and appreciate it a bit more.” 

Gillespie, whose first experience of officiating was in netball as a teenager, said her goal first time round was to make the team of officials for the Rio Olympics.  

She missed out after rushing back from her illness and has “resented” not making the cut ever since.  

But after working as an assistant referee for the Guinness Women’s Six Nations matches between Ireland and Wales in Cork, then Wales vs Italy in the Principality Stadium at the weekend, she now has a new goal in mind.  

Gillespie, whose dad Paul has taken charge more than 200 matches during his own career, wants to earn a place among the officials for next year’s Rugby World Cup.  

She said: “That was always on my radar when I first started.  Timings haven’t fallen in my favour. I’ve either been too young and inexperienced, or there were others in front of me, then I went away for 10 years.  

"I’m concerned I’ve left my run a wee bit late – there will be officials from the last World Cup, so it might be a bit of a big ask. 

“People keep telling me ’you are not a newbie’ so I do have some credit from what I’ve done before.” 

Scotland Rugby News: Chelsea Gillespie (left) picked up refereeing again after moving to ScotlandChelsea Gillespie (left) picked up refereeing again after moving to Scotland (Image: SNS)

Whether she makes the cut, Gillespie is just pleased to be back involved at the top level. And she’s found a new motivation for making a late bid to make the World Cup.  

“My son Alex loves the stadiums, and I’m not sure Heidi understands too much about what’s going on.  

“At the weekend, all I could hear was ‘mummy’ from the touchline and there was these two faces from the touchline. It was really cute. 

“They are the reason why I do it.”