Six Nations 2019's Referees
The 20th edition of the Six Nations Championship starts on Friday night when Wayne Barnes blows the starting whistle. There will be 13 other referees to blow whistles at six venues in a compact 15-match competition over some six weeks.
In 1999, it had been the Five Nations. Then in came Italy to provide a neater, more balanced competition. Since then there have been 15 matches.
Quiz question: what was the first Six Nations match and who refereed it? Think of it and we’ll answer it at the end of these little profiles of each of this year’s 14 referees.
Over the years, the choice of referees for this choice competition has been excellent – top referees from all over the rugby world. Of them André Watson and Craig Joubert of South Africa, Alain Rolland of Ireland and Nigel Owens of Wales have refereed World Cup Finals. Of them, only Owens is back again.
The 14 referees
Australia: Nic Berry, Angus Gardener
England: Wayne Barnes, Matt Carley, Luke Pearce
France: Jérôme Garcès, Pascal Gaüzère, Romain Poite, Mathieu Raynal
New Zealand: Glen Jackson, Ben O’Keeffe, Paul Williams
South Africa: Jaco Peyper
Wales: Nigel Owens
Of them, Nic Berry, Matt Carley, Luke Pearce, Mathieu Raynal and Paul Williams are new to Six Nations as referees. Let’s introduce them first.
Nic Berry played scrumhalf for the Reds in Super Rugby, for Racing of Paris in France’s Top 14 and for Wasps in England’s Premiership. Concussion caused him to give up playing and in 2015 he took up refereeing. A schoolmaster, he has been fast-tracked and has made rapid strides in refereeing, making his Super Rugby debut in 2016. He is the only referee appointed to two Six Nations Matches this year.
Nicholas Berry turns 35 in March.
34-year-old Matthew Carley, like Wayne Barnes, started refereeing when he was still at school. He was then 16 years of age. He turned 34 just before Christmas 2018 and so has had years of refereeing in which to gather experience. In 2013 he made his refereeing debut in England’s premiership and made his Test debut in 2015 when Portugal played Spain. His first Tier 1 Test was New Zealand vs Scotland in 2017.
Luke Pearce, the son of long-serving referee Andrew Pearce, was born in Wales in 1987, but grew up in England. Like Matt Carley, he was 16 when he joined his local referees’ society, the Devon Referees’ Society. He and Carley, have matches strides, both refereeing in World Rugby Sevens, both growing through England’s Championship to Premiership. In Pearce’s case Premiership refereeing came in 2011. 2013 was a good year for him – Junior World Championship in France, European Champions Cup and Test debut when Russia played France. Last year he refereed New Zealand vs France in New Zealand and Wales vs South Africa in Cardiff.
Pearce is 31.
A Catalan from Perpignan, who speaks excellent English, Mathieu Raynal started refereeing 18 years ago, when he was 19 and still a player. His progress has been steady and it shows in his refereeing – a steady referee who understands what he is doing in a calm, quiet way. He started refereeing in France’s Top 14 in 2007, made his Test debut in 2009 and in Europe’s Champions Cup in 2012. In 2011 he was a referee at the World Junior Championship in Italy.
In 2013, Raynal suffered a broken leg when he was caught in a collision in a Top 14 match. This put paid to his refereeing for 11 months.
2018 was a good year for Raynal. He refereed the Championship match between Argentina and New Zealand as well as Argentina vs Scotland and England vs the Barbarians.
Paul Williams, a club scrumhalf in Taranaki, started refereeing in 2011 and is now a full-time referee. 2016 was an excellent year for him. He refereed the final of the Junior Word Champion and started refereeing Super Rugby. The next year he refereed his first Test – Scotland vs Italy in Singapore and last year he refereed Australia vs Ireland in Melbourne.
Paul Williams turns 34 in April this year.
Wayne Barnes and Nigel Owens are the most experienced in terms of Six Nations refereeing, having started in 2007.
From the Forest of Dean, barrister Wayne Barnes joined the Gloucester & District Referees’ Society at the age of 15. In 2001, when he was just 21, Barnes became the youngest referee ever on England’s national panel of referees. Now, aged 39, he has had one of the greatest rugby referee’s careers of all time – over 80 Tests, three World Cups, nearly 200 matches in the English Premiership, and finals of the Premiership and the Heineken Cup. He is surely going off to the World Cup in Japan where he could well be a candidate to referee the final.
He is not a scared referee. He survived hectic criticism after New Zealand’s defeat in the 2007 World Cup and was not afraid to send off the Northampton (and England) captain in 2013 when Dylan Harley was grossly rude to him in the Premiership final that year.
There has been talk of retirement but there is no reason of fitness or refereeing ability to suggest that it would be a good idea. It would be a matter to be decided by his desire and his family’s needs.
Sydneysider, Angus Gardner was a 15-year-old pupil at Sydney Church of England Grammar School (popularly known as Shore), when he started refereeing in 1999. His progress was steady, gaining momentum in the last three years. Last year was a particularly good year for Gardner for he refereed the final of Super Rugby and several top Tests – England vs Ireland in the Six Nations, New Zealand vs France, two Rugby Championship matches – Argentina vs South Africa in Mendoza and South Africa vs New Zealand – and then in November England vs South Africa. His Six Nations match in the last round of this year’s Six Nations could be a decider – Wales vs Ireland.
Three of the French referees for the Six Nations are over forty; at 45 Jérôme Garcès is the oldest – a remarkably fit and fast man, tall and imposing. His has been a long, illustrious refereeing career, which has included Top 14 and Heineken Cup club matches, Junior World Championship matches, and Six Nations, Rugby Championship and World Cup matches and amongst top Test matches.
His international debut was at Twickenham when England played the Barbarians in 2010. His first big Test was the result of an accident. He was an assistant to his compatriot Romain Poite when England played Scotland at Twickenham in 2011. Poite came off injured in the second half and Garcès replaced him.
At the 2015 World Cup he was the referee in a famous match down at Brighton when Japan beat South Africa. He also refereed a semifinal at that World Cup, South Africa vs New Zealand.
In 2017 he refereed the second Test in the B&I Lions’ tour of New Zealand when the series was drawn.
In the Six Nations last year he refereed Wales vs Italy and this year he has the most eagerly anticipated match, Ireland vs England in Round 1.
All four of the French referees appointed to Six Nations matches this year are from southwestern France, including 41-year-old Pascal Gaüzère who was born in the small (pop. under 2 000) of Montfort-en-Chalosse. He started refereeing in 2005 and refereed at the Junior World Championships in 2009 and 2010, refereeing the final between Australia and New Zealand in 2010. He started refereeing Six Nations matches in 2010 but his career has been quiet rather than glittering on the world stage, and it is only in the last two years that he has become prominent. In 2018 he referees two Six Nations matches (Wales vs Scotland and Scotland vs Italy), a tour match between Australia and Ireland in Italy, a Rugby Championship match] between New Zealand and Argentina and a November Test between Italy and Australia. He has had strong appointments in top club matches, including France’s Top 14 and the Heineken Cup.
The former plain-clothes detective from Toulouse, is one of the best-known referees in the world – a slender 43-year-old with a commanding presence.
Poite was an assistant referee at the 2007 Rugby World Cup and then a referee in 2011 and 2015. He certainly has had big occasions in his refereeing life. Twice he refereed the third and decisive Test of a B&I Lions tour Down Under. In 2013, the Lions beat Australia and won the series. In 2017, the match ended in a 15-all draw and the series was shared one-all.
Poite has refereed in the Rugby Championship and, since 2010, in the Six Nations. His remarkable matches in 2018 were South Africa vs England in Bloemfontein, New Zealand vs Australia in Japan and Scotland vs South Africa.
He has refereed top club matches in Top 14 and Heineken Cup.
His long career has not been without controversy but he seems able to take that in his stride, a referee with a strong mind.
Glen Jackson was the first of a new breed of referee – the top player fast-tracked into top refereeing. As a player, he was a flyhalf for the Chiefs in Super Rugby and for Bay of Plenty in the NPC, and for the New Zealand Maori. In England he played for Saracens and was twice invited to play for the Barbarians.
Then, in 2010, he took up refereeing and has found favour with players and administrators, paving the way for other ex-players. He is still looking fit and youthful at 43.
In 2011 he made his refereeing debut in Super Rugby and by the end of the 2018 season he had refereed 77 Super Rugby matches, including the 2016 final. In 2012, when he refereed his first Test, it was at Twickenham, England vs Fiji. In 2015 he made his debut in Six Nations rugby and in the Rugby Championship. In 2015 he was also one of the referees at the Rugby World Cup in England.
In last November Jackson refereed two matches – Italy vs Georgia, a match of importance as there had been a considerable amount of talk suggesting that Georgia be given the chance to take Italy’s place in the Six Nations. Italy won. He also refereed France vs Argentina.
A 30-year-old ophthalmologist and one of the world’s top rugby referees, Ben O’Keeffe is in his third year as a Six Nations referee.
For the time being refereeing is his main job, ophthalmology his “other” job, one that will enjoy his serious attention in due course.
Born in Auckland, schooled in Blenheim, he was a student at Otago University when he started refereeing at the age of 19 and he has climbed steadily to the treetop. In 2013 he refereed senior provincial matches in New Zealand. In 2014, he was at the Junior World Championship and refereed the final between South Africa and England. In 2015 he started refereeing Super Rugby and in 2016 he refereed his first Test. That year, too he refereed his first Rugby Championship match, between South Africa and Argentina. And that year he also refereed his first Six Nations match.
2018 was also a good year – Wales vs France in Six Nations, South Africa vs England in a tour match, South Africa vs Argentina in Rugby championship and in November Ireland vs USA in Dublin and Wales vs Australia in Cardiff.
And he has a lot of years left in his refereeing.
Jaco Peyper, a 38-year-old lawyer from Bloemfontein, is having a wonderful refereeing career. An intelligent man, he knows full well what he is doing and has the fitness and personality to go with it. Experience counts, and Peyper is going into his 12th season as Super Rugby referee.
Just the stats of his career tell of success. Peyper has refereed 95 Super rugby matches including finals in 2015 and 2017 to go with Currie Cup Finals in 2016, 2017 and 2018. That means that he will soon reach 100 Super Rugby matches as a referee. He has refereed 47 Test matches, including nine Six Nations Matches, starting in 2011.
Peyper is a referee for any match. In last November, he refereed the match between England and Australia at Twickenham and his 2019 Six Nations appointment this year is Wales vs England in Cardiff – both matches with an extra charge in them.
Nigel Owens, MBE
At 47, Nigel Owens is the oldest of the 2019 Six Nations referees. It is not the only superlative attached to him. He has also refereed the most Test matches in the history of rugby football. He has also refereed most Heineken Cup matches and most PRO 14 matches. Some would also regard him as the most entertaining referee of all time.
He started refereeing at the age of 16, which means he has been refereeing longer than some other 2019 Six Nations referees have been alive. His rise was not meteoric. It took 13 years of refereeing to get to Europe’s Challenge Cup in 2001. Then came Heineken Cup in 2002, five years on World Rugby’s Sevens circuit, his first Test in 2004 (Portugal vs Georgia), Celtic League (now PRO14) in 2005, Six Nations in 2007 and TriNations (now Rugby Championship) also in 2007 and the 2007 World Cup in France. He has also had share of decisive matches such as Heineken Cup, PRO14 and World Cup finals.
As a referee he has been an enormous achiever, a referee players and officials respect.
Entertainment is a part of this Welsh-speaking West Walian’s life, involved in two television programmes of his own and possessed of a magnificent singing voice.
In 2018, apart from his many club matches, Owens has refereed Scotland vs England and France vs Ireland in Six Nations, New Zealand vs South Africa in Rugby Championship, France vs South Africa in Paris and Ireland vs Italy in Chicago in November, and the Varsity Match at Twickenham. His Six Nations match in 2019 is France vs Ireland in Paris.
The referees are not the only officials involved in matches. There are assistant referees and TMOs who have a say in what happens in matches plus those who organise the coming and going of players, timekeepers and citing commissioners.
One of the TMOs, Marius Jonker of South Africa, was a Test referee in his day, refereeing Five Nations matches, including the Calcutta Cup match on two occasions.
Oh, there is our quiz question.
The first Six Nations match was between Italy and Scotland at Stadio Flaminio in the heart of Rome, and the referee was Jonathan Kaplan of South Africa, the holder of the record for most Tests refereed before Nigel Owens overtook it. Oh, and Italy won 34-20.