The IRB has appointed 10 referees, including Ireland’s George Clancy and Alain Rolland, to officiate at the 15 championship matches, starting on Saturday, February 4. Ireland captain Paul O’Connell was among the representatives for the competing teams who gathered in London on Tuesday evening to hear the governing body’s Referee Manager Paddy O’Brien say there would be no change in emphasis for the world’s top referees.
“It was interesting, it was nothing new and that’s the best part for us, I think,” O’Connell said yesterday.
“At the moment there’s nothing new coming in, nothing new to focus on and practice in training or have explained to us or to debate.
“So that’s the big thing for us, to know there are no changes brought in mid-season. So much of the stuff we’ve been doing in the Heineken Cup around the breakdown — around maul and around scrum — remains as is. It certainly makes it easier for players and coaches alike.”
The five key areas remain as they were in New Zealand during the World Cup last autumn with match officials told to focus on specific aspects of the tackle, scrum, maul, offside lines at the breakdown and foul play.
England’s Wayne Barnes will officiate Ireland’s opener against Wales at the Aviva Stadium on February 5, with his compatriot Dave Pearson in charge for the Irish trip to Stade de France a week later.
South Africa’s Craig Joubert referees the Ireland-Italy game in Dublin while New Zealand’s Chris Pollock, a reserve referee at Rugby World Cup 2011, will make his RBS 6 Nations refereeing debut when he takes charge of Ireland against Scotland at the Aviva on March 10. Ireland round out the tournament on March 17 against England at Twickenham with Wales’s Nigel Owens as the match official.
“Having spoken to the coaches this week, they all know exactly what the IRB is trying to achieve with the referees and they have been informed that there are no changes in emphasis,” O’Brien said.
“It is encouraging to note that the coaches have all bought into the process and are in agreement with the five key areas of focus.”
The RBS 6 Nations will also see the debut of a new match official selection process, which the IRB intends will further promote consistency of performance management and ensure the best referees are appointed to the world’s top matches.
Four selectors — Lyndon Bray (SANZAR), Tappe Henning (SANZAR), Donal Courtney (Six Nations) and Clayton Thomas (Six Nations) — will form a streamlined selection panel chaired by IRB Council Member for Wales David Pickering.