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The USA refereeing fraternity got a nice pat on the back with Leah Berard getting the assignment to whistle the Hong Kong 7s Women's final.

For Berard, who made a quite public error at the USA Rugby collegiate 7s national tournament, it's part of a long road to handling some high-profile jobs, including running touch at the odd IRB men's tournament. It's also good for the refereeing community as a whole, which has stepped up in some key areas.

One of those areas was last February at the Las Vegas Invitational during the USA 7s. There 7s refereeing manager Pat McNally oversaw over 130 referees, most from the USA but some from Canada and Japan, as well. McNally was instrumental in getting referees to that tournament (the LVI and USA 7s offers perks for the refs who work the event), and was seen on the night before the start of play driving back and forth from the Las Vegas airport, giving refs rides to their hotels.

"I've never been to a tournament that had enough refs," said McNally. "But we got a really good response and the referees have really stepped up."

They will need to step up again in June, when USA Rugby holds their club championships on June 2 and 3, in Glendale, Colo., and USA 7s holds the Collegiate Rugby Championships at PPL Park outside Philadelphia. 

The list of top refs will be stretched that weekend. McNally, who runs the 7s refs, will be working to get officials for the CRC, and he knows it's a prime job. 

"It's tough," he said. "Refereeing in front of that kind of crowd, on TV, it's difficult. But it makes the refs stronger, which we need."

It's those kinds of events that help referees get prime international assignments. And with the HSBC Sevens World Series referees getting some stick from coaches for their performances, there could be some vacancies.

Mike Kelly out of San Diego will be an assistant ref this weekend in Tokyo. Brian Zapp worked the Canadian national 7s. Berard is expected more international 7s work, and there will also be assignments at the NCRA World Cup Qualifiers.

"We've been fortunate to have good referees who got major assignments, such as Graeme Bullen and Chris Draper," said McNally. "The key thing is to get that next level of refs who are young, able to officiate on the circuit, or are getting there. We need to get those refs working real 7s games."

This week's top tries from Hong Kong featured a long run from Dan Norton, England's wing and widely considered one of the fastest players in the business. Referee Rasta Rasivhenge, who has come under some criticism for his calls, matched Norton stride for stride. That was a potent message to the referees about what it takes to officiate at this level - you have to be an athlete.

"You have to be fit and athletic," said McNally. "And you have to be flexible in your life and work so you can do these things. We have some good referees at the top now, but we are working to get more. You have to keep that pipeline fed."