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Meet the teenager who commands 30 grown men

Crombie on Hong Kong Sevens duty.

Photo credit: Hong Kong Society of Rugby Football Union Referees

With a bright lime-green (or at times, orange) kit draped over his lanky frame and plain black boots, Rory Crombie is the most powerful person on the pitch.

Armed with 3 years of experience, the former Sandy Bay player commands the respect of every single player on any given weekend and is viewed as one of the rising stars in Hong Kong rugby.

Part of a select group chosen to take part in the London Exchange - where he officiated in the biggest school sevens in the world, Crombie is also the latest recipient of the Referee of the Year award in recognition of a stellar 2018-18 season.

Being responsible for split-second judgements in some of the most high-level matches might seem a hefty burden for a 17-year-old, but Crombie’s decision to trade his mouthguard for a whistle was made early on.

The Hong Kong Rugby Union (HKRU) Referee of the Year recipient in action in the Women's Premiership.

“I decided to take up refereeing when I was 14 because I’m not a very good player and I wasn’t big enough to compete against other guys my age,” said Crombie.

“So I decided to take the level one referee course and I’m really happy I did because now I prefer refereeing to playing.”

A familiar sight in Women’s Premiership fixtures, the 17-year-old's popularity can perhaps be ascribed to a maturity and level-headedness that belies his young years – something which has struck a tone with local supporters.

Though well-versed in the rugby rulebook, he instead prefers to shape the laws of the game around encouraging a positive, attacking brand of rugby.

“I like being able to control the game and make it as good a game of rugby as possible by allowing it to flow."

"It’s important to be empathetic towards teams especially when calls don’t go their way. But at the same time you need to be confident enough to make some big decisions that people might not like." he added.

On the back of officiating duties at the Hong Kong Sevens, Crombie's selection to referee the Asia Rugby Division 3 fixture between China and India meant that he is now Hong Kong's youngest international referee.

"It was a great experience to be part of a game at that level and I feel very lucky to have been given the opportunity to referee a test match," said Crombie of his maiden test.

"I was stoked when I found out I was going to be refereeing the game, and I still am to be honest."

With a two year headstart, could we one day be speaking of Crombie in the same breath as Nigel Owens?

Photo credit: Hong Kong Society of Rugby Football Union Referees

No doubt still savouring his latest taster of international rugby, it seems only a matter of time before he follows in the footsteps of Hong Kong referees Tim Baker and Matthew Rodden - both of whom he counts as his idols.

Baker made history of his own when he was appointed assistant referee in the Men's clash between Japan and Argentina in 2016, before going on to become Asia's first match official at the Women's Six Nations the following year.

With youth on his side, it doesn't take a betting man to plot a similar upward trajectory for Crombie to become one of the region's, if not the world's most recognisable referees.

For all the innumerable refereeing decisions he will make in the decades to come, a single choice he made at 14 years of age may prove to be the biggest call of his life.

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