Referees for the British and Irish Lions Test series against South Africa this summer will come from neutral countries, the International Rugby Board confirmed this afternoon.
The Lions had reportedly wanted neutral officials for the entire tour but the IRB confirmed the seven provincial games will be selected on merit, regardless of nationality.
Lions head coach Ian McGeechan was in Dubai last weekend to discuss the issue with IRB referee manager Paddy O’Brien and IRB match official selection committee chairman David Pickering.
“We shared a very positive meeting with management from both teams and discussed the selection criteria for the three Test matches,” said O’Brien.
“All agreed that the most appropriate policy is the appointment of neutral referees from within the IRB high performance referee panel.
“It was also agreed that the referee appointments for the seven additional provincial tour matches will be made by the IRB from the panel regardless of nationality and will be merit-based.”
The IRB’s 19-man referee panel for the 2008-09 season includes four South Africans – Jonathan Kaplan, Craig Joubert, Mark Lawrence and Marius Jonker – and seven from Britain and Ireland.
The remaining top-ranking officials are: Joel Jutge and Christophe Berdot (France), Matt Goddard and Stuart Dickinson (Australia), Steve Walsh Lyndon Bray, Paul Honiss and Bryce Lawrence (New Zealand).
Jutge, Dickinson and Walsh have all had RBS 6 Nations appointments this season.
The IRB will finalise the referees and touch judges for the tour at a meeting in Dublin over the weekend of April 25-26.