There are four pools and five nations in each. But beyond the 20 countries competing at the Rugby World Cup is another critical selection — that of the match officials (MOs) or Team 21, as they’ve become known.
This consists of 12 referees, seven assistant referees (ARs) and four Television Match Officials (TMOs).
The management of the team is led by World Rugby Referee manager Alain Rolland from Ireland, with his fellow selectors Joel Jutge (EPCR Referee manager), Lyndon Bray (SANZAR Referee manager), Nick Mallett (ex-South African Coach). Anthony Buchanan from Wales as the chairman of the selection group.
Allied to this in analysing the MO’s performance are Paddy O’Brien (WR 7s Referee manager), Craig Joubert (WR 7s Referee coach) and Wayne Erickson (former Australian international referee).
Further support is given by WR game analyst Rhys Jones, with Matt Blair looking after all the fitness aspects, and Tracy O’Callaghan from Ireland handling all the administration.
How was this team of match officials selected? Since RWC 2015, more especially over the last couple of years, there has been constant appraisal of the performance of all those selected, and of course, of those who were also in the frame but ultimately didn’t make the cut.
There is also ongoing monitoring of each official’s fitness level, not just on match days but in each training session, through the use of GPS equipment.
From an Irish perspective, it’s disappointing that for the first time ever, there is no Irish referee at a RWC. However, Andrew Brace, the former Belgian international (grandparent qualified), Tralee, and Old Crescent player is going as an assistant referee.
So who are the chosen ones, what are their idiosyncrasies, and what are they strictest on? These are things the competing nations need to know. They are listed alphabetically:
Wayne Barnes (England):
The highly-experienced Englishman will officiate in his fourth RWC, and takes charge of Ireland’s opening game against Scotland. From previous games involving Ireland, it was obvious they need to present good ‘pictures’ to him at both the scrum and around the breakdown, or he will penalise them. He is very well-regarded, and should push for games at the later end of the tournament.
Nic Berry (Australia):
The former NSW Waratahs scrum-half, has had a meteoric rise up the refereeing ladder over the last two seasons. He refereed the U20 final in Georgia in 2017, and has since gone on to referee in this year’s Rugby Championship, and indeed, was the only referee to get two 6 Nations games in 2019.
Jerome Garces (France):
One of four French referees selected, this will be his second RWC as a referee, having gone to the 2011 RWC as an AR. His main attributes as a referee are his excellent communication, and a calm demeanour — as witnessed by the manner in which he handled the dismissal of Brad Barrett (NZ) in the match against Australia. Another of those who would expect to be up there for play-off selection.
Angus Gardner (Australia):
The second Australian referee to gain selection comes into the tournament with a reputation for being strong on getting the ball away quickly from the breakdown, and in being quick to move players back 10 metres for any dissent. No bad thing!
Pascal Gauzare (France):
In his second RWC, the Frenchman comes in with some big games under his belt, in both EPCR and at international level. Again, a good communicator who just gets on with his business.
Ben O’Keeffe(New Zealand):
One of two New Zealand referees going. As you might expect, given that he is a qualified eye doctor, he is well used to jibes on his refereeing. This is his first RWC.
Nigel Owens (Wales):
The vastly-experienced Welsh official is refereeing in his fourth RWC, and has 91 Tier 1 tests to his name, with another four referee appointments (including the opening game) to come in the pool stages. He is clearly someone very highly thought of, while being renowned for his quick turn of phrase — “this isn’t soccer”, for instance — and his empathy with the players. However, this shouldn’t be mistaken for a weakness, as he is not afraid of making the big calls. Refereed the RWC final in 2015, and is again in the frame for a play-off game.
Luke Pearce (England):
The Welsh-born, Exeter-domiciled, Luke Pearce has really come to the fore over the last two seasons, with impressive performances in the Champions Cup and on the international stage. Like a number of other newcomers, he is probably not going to get a play-off game, but could be a serious contender to referee at the latter stages of RWC 2023.
Jaco Peyper (South Africa):
Peyper in his second RWC as a referee, is a law graduate who attended the same school, and university, in Bloemfontein as former Munster and current South African coach Rassie Erasmus. A contender for play-off games.
Romain Poite (France):
A strong character, and certainly not someone as a player would want to challenge on the pitch. Won’t back down when it comes to making big decisions, as witnessed in the third Lions Test versus New Zealand, when put under pressure from Kieran Reid to do so. Should be in line for a play-off game.
Mathieu Raynal (France):
The fourth Frenchman is best remembered in Ireland as being in charge that famous night in Chicago when the AB’s were defeated for the first time.
Handled Ireland’s win over Wales last weekend and certainly allowed players to compete at the breakdown. First RWC as a referee, having been an AR in England 2015.
Paul Williams(New Zealand):
The second New Zealander to get selected comes with a reputation for being well able to handle the big occasion. Like many of the other referees, he came through the U20 Championship, refereeing the final in 2016.
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