World Rugby International Referees Panel

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The World Rugby International Referees Panel is a panel of elite rugby union referees appointed by the sports governing body, World Rugby (formerly the International Rugby Board) to officiate in international matches, usually those involving the national teams of high-performance unions from across the globe, as named by World Rugby.

The panel was established to ensure that matches between the best international teams are handled by the best referees. World Rugby appoints a neutral 4-person team (referee, 2 assistant referees, TMO) to each match in the international windows, as well as to the Six Nations and The Rugby Championship.

All the referees on the International panel, have progressed through refereeing ranks in their domestic leagues, before developing skills further on the Sevens World Series panel, and in World Rugby Under 20 competitions, as well as gaining experience in multinational club competitions such as the European Rugby Champions Cup and Super Rugby,.[1]

Regarded as the best in the world, referees on the panel are employed by their home unions and World Rugby, and have strict standards that they must adhere to.


Appointments are made four times a year, prior to the June and November international test windows, the Six Nations and the Rugby Championship.

Appointments are made by a panel of the elite referee managers from Six Nations and SANZAR sponsored competitions, and are based on a referees performance in both recent international and club matches. Referees can be called up to and dropped from the panel in between series', meaning that the best referees are appointed to the panel for each period.

The World Rugby Match Official Selection Committee, chaired by John Jeffrey, comprises former elite referees Lyndon Bray (SANZAR), Andrew Cole (SANZAR), Donal Courtney (European Professional Club Rugby), Clayton Thomas (Six Nations) and World Rugby High Performance Match Officials Manager Joël Jutge.

Sponsorship and Kit Supply[edit]

The panel is sponsored by Emirates Airlines, and their Fly Emirates branding appears on the referees shirts for all test matches. Starting in 2015, this sponsorship will also extend to the Rugby World Cup, marking the first time a sponsor has appeared on a players or officials shirt while on the field of play.

The panels kit is supplied by Canterbury, the kit consists of blue socks, blue shorts and a choice of four shirts - blue, orange, white and black. The choice of shirts is in place to avoid a colour clash with any of the teams during a game. Some officials also have their own sponsorships, for other equipment such as boots.

Current members[edit]

The current members of the elite panel[2] are referees highly regarded by World Rugby and their referee selectors. Four of the referees come from South Africa, the most from any country. England, France, Ireland and New Zealand each have three. Australia has two and Wales has one.[3]

The current panel are in alphabetical order, not ranking wise.[3]

South Africa's Craig Joubert refereed the 2011 Rugby World Cup Final in New Zealand.

Referee Selectors and assessors[edit]

The referee selectors and coaches are each appointed by World Rugby.

Referee Selectors[edit]

Steve Hilditch of Ireland is the head of the selectors.

- Steve Hilditch
- Tappe Henning
- Michael Lamoullie
- Bob Francis


A lot of the referee assessors are former referees. These assessors simply judge the referees performance, they do not select them. All reports are forwarded to the selectors.
- Scott Young
- Andrew Cole
- Patrick Robin
- Paul Bridgman
- Brian Stirling
- Tony Spreadbury
- Ed Morrisson


During 2009 and other seasons the referees and the IRB (as World Rugby was then known) alike have been criticized heavily for their under performing of referees in test matches and even their behaviour off the field.

Wayne Barnes[edit]

In April 2007, it was announced that Barnes would be one of three English referees at the 2007 Rugby World Cup, the others being Chris White and Tony Spreadbury. After New Zealand was knocked out of the quarter-final Bebo profiles were created by some New Zealand fans dedicated to criticising Wayne Barnes' refereeing performance.[7] Comments there and at other internet sites that included personal abuse were condemned by the International Rugby Board and then New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark.

Steve Walsh[edit]

Steve Walsh had his contract torn up by the NZRU for disciplinary reasons.[8][9] He was furthermore taken off the IRB referees panel. Later on in the year Walsh announced he was to continue refereeing in Australia, where he took part in the 2010 Super 14 as a referee as an Australian. Walsh refereed the Tooheys New NSW First Grade Semi Final, and was narrowly beaten to the final by IRB member Stuart Dickinson, where Walsh was the reserve referee.

Bryce Lawrence[edit]

Bryce Lawrence was selected to referee in the first British and Irish Lions test match against South Africa in 2009. In the 2nd British and Irish Lions test match he was acting as an assistant referee. 30 seconds into the match Schalk Burger recklessly eye gouged Lions winger Luke Fitzgerald. Lawrence saw the incident and reported it to referee Christophe Berdos, who gave a "Yellow Card". Burger received an 8-week ban for the incident,[10] but cleared of eye gouging; he was cited for making dangerous but "non intentional" contact with the eye of Fitzgerald.[11]

Stuart Dickinson and Paddy O'Brien[edit]

On November 14, Stuart Dickinson refereed the Italy versus New Zealand match at the San Siro Stadium. The game had continuous scrum resets which ended in Dickinson yellow carding the All Blacks Neemia Tialata. The Italian management were saying what a poor job he did not giving the Italian team a penalty try. The All Blacks coaching staff, despite the win, were also heavily critical saying that Italy were at fault and were using illegal tactics. Paddy O'Brien the IRB referees manager set the precedent and flew to New Zealand team hotel which had never been done before and apologised to NZ management saying Dickinson got it completely wrong.[12]

This led to outrage by the Australian Rugby Union, who issued a formal complaint to the IRB against Paddy O'Brien.[13] O'Brien ended up apologising to Stuart Dickinson and the Australian Rugby Union.[14]

“I have unreservedly apologised to Stuart Dickinson for the action of publicly discussing elements of his performance review and would like to extend that apology to the Australian Rugby Union," said O'Brien.

“A clear and confidential best practice protocol exists for match official appraisal and feedback involving all stakeholders and I regret breaching this protocol. “The IRB has in place a dedicated High Performance structure for the development of international referees and works hard with its Member Unions to identify up and coming talent and promote consistency at all levels of the Game. “Team management are also offered the opportunity to meet with the referee prior to a match or arrange a meeting with a performance reviewer or myself – this is normal practice. “Again I would like to apologise to Stuart and the ARU for the public nature of the comments that I made."

Dickinson was not appointed to any Six Nations matches in 2010, missing selection for that tournament for the first time since 2000. The ARU have sought a meeting with Paddy O'Brien to discuss this latest turn of events after O'Brien chose not to publicly appraise referees after they have a bad game. It is understood that the meeting took place behind closed doors. Dickinson has never been subsequently appointed to a Six Nations or Tri-Nations match, and missed selection entirely for the 2011 Rugby World Cup. He retired from international refereeing in 2011.

The integration of more stringent game management procedures and referee coaching practices are now considered of greater importance within international rugby unions.

Craig Joubert[edit]

South African top referee Craig Joubert, who took charge in the final of the 2011 Rugby World Cup received a lot of criticism for a vitally important decision during the knockout stages at 2015 Rugby World Cup.

Joubert was in charge of the Quarter-final between Australia and Scotland at the 2015 competition. In the last few minutes, Scotland were leading 34 - 32. A scrappy Scottish lineout was eventually knocked back, and a ball coming off Australian scrumhalf Nick Phipps went forward only to be caught by another Scottish player. Joubert awarded a penalty to Australia for offside, and it was up to Australian flyhalf Bernard Foley to slot the kick, and so he did.

Former Members of the Elite Panel[edit]

2007 Rugby World Cup[edit]

The 2007 referees for the Rugby World Cup were based on merit. The IRB consisting of the selectors and Paddy O'Brien selected 12 referees to referee at the 2007 Rugby World Cup. They also picked a panel of assistant referees and TMO's. Many of the referees who have refereed at this world cup have now retired.

Mark Lawrence was a notable exception. It was judged that Marius Jonker was the better referee at the time. Mark Lawrence has in recent times been selected to referee more high profile international games and is rated by many as one of the leading international referees.

The 2007 Rugby World Cup Referees

2011 Rugby World Cup[edit]

The 2011 referees for the Rugby World Cup were also based on merit, judged on the previous 4 years. The IRB consisting of the selectors and Paddy O'Brien selected 10 referees to referee at the 2011 Rugby World Cup: fewer than ever. This was to give match officials more game time during the tournament, and help the selectors to pick the best officials for the knockout stage.

Mark Lawrence and Alan Lewis were both overlooked for this tournament, Lawrence unlucky to be overlooked for successive tournaments.[20]

The 2011 Rugby World Cup Referees

The 2011 Rugby World Cup Assistant Referees

  • Chris Pollock (New Zealand) - reserve referee
  • Jérôme Garcès (France) - reserve referee
  • Simon McDowell (Ireland)
  • Tim Hayes (Wales)
  • Stuart Terheege (England)
  • Vinny Munro (New Zealand)
  • Carlo Damasco (Italy)

The 2011 Rugby World Cup TMO Panel

  • Graham Hughes (England)
  • Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)
  • Matt Goddard (Australia)
  • Giulio De Santis (Italy)


External links[edit]