The One person left standing after every game – the Rugby Referee

The One Man left standing after every game - the Rugby Referee

Looking down the barrel of another Premiership Rugby season, fans will find a focus on the players. The squads are in full readiness, for the opening Round. As well, the one person left standing after every rugby game, plays his or hers part too – the rugby referee, and the referees assistants.

No glory is afforded those men and women. Less appreciated, sometimes less respected – which is the exact opposite attitude to which the majority hold them in – yet at the end of the game, some are given handshakes….but that is about all they can expect.

They are the overlooked role. One that every game could not continue without, yet when the ball bounces the wrong way; when the call goes against a fans team, the referee (ref) can be the focus of their dissatisfaction.

Rugby fan, and former rugby referee Liam Flood has written ‘an ode to the lonely ref’. A carefully worded prose that is worthy of mention. Last Word on Rugby agree on many points, as every competition has several key elements: a rectangular field, two sets of posts, an oval ball and importantly, the match official.

The One Man left standing after every Rugby game

“The life of a ref first he’s got to train and keep himself fit. He has to follow a program – just like any player. His diet must also be like a player. Fitness, dedication and application of the laws and guidelines.

“As a ref, you always question yourself. ‘How was my game? Did I get all my calls right’. All a part of improving, as every rugby referee wishes to.

“You will in the minds of the losing side be wrong in a lot of your penalties, and of course they will all be corrected in the eye’s of the winners. The views of fans and managers is both one of respect, and reprimand. But it is your contemporaries whom any ref wishes to receive the most feedback from.”

Referees look forward to the post-season, as much as players do. Being a part of a full season can bring benefits in fitness, discipline and for many, to continue playing their part in the game they love.

By the knockout stages, match-grading and results are assessed before rugby referees appointments are set. The finals and representative games for all age grades – School Boy/Girl, Under 85kg, Colts (under 19) Premiers, Seniors – are rewards for a commitment over the season.

As much for the women and men on the field, as those who control the game.

Not just a Ref, but an entire Officiating Group

“It is not just the ref these days. The man in the middle has plenty of ‘assistants’. You have the Assistant Referee’s, the trainer for the coaches – regional or national – plus so many more to control the modern game.

“You have the TMO – Television Match Official – who controls games which are televised. In club rugby, the group of on-field and off-field officials control the sideline movements. They also cop a lot of feedback and sadly, some abuse.

“At the representative and professional level, there are the four and five officials; all of whom were referee’s. Add to that the administrative staffs, including the ‘much feared’ Citing Officer. So it is not just one man controlling a game ….even though fans and players sometimes place all their focus on the person holding the whistle.

“That’s a lot of men and women covering the big day’s game. A lot of pressure, and this is why new referee’s are always wanted. Men and women, who have an active interest in the sport and an ability to show, and be shown respect.”

But to me I enjoyed the game at the local level. closer to the game, and more involved with players.

“I think a good ref is (predominately) a guy who played the game, can follow the ball and the flow of the match. One who knows all the tricks in the book, but can importantly ‘interpret’ the dispensation of the Law.

“This is why I enjoyed it when talking to frontrows – especially as I played in all three positions. The input from a referee can positively affect a game.”

Glen Jackson
Rugby referee Glen Jackson of New Zealand during the Autumn International between Wales and Australia at the Principality Stadium on November 11, 2017 in Cardiff, Wales. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

Notable rugby players who have converted from players to refs are, Karl Dickson (see main picture) and Glen Jackson.

Last Man Standing – the Rugby Ref has the Final Say

No matter if it is an Gallagher Premiership Rugby game, an Investec Rugby Championship clash – which was well officiated by Wayne Barnes, to all Kiwi rugby fans delight. The ref has the final say. Although, at the International level, the controls of the ‘group’ of officials means that the letter of the law has to be shown – former refs aside, the game is tougher today, and needs a professional attitude.

Back at the club house, the ref can still enjoy an after match beverage. That familiarity is where some officials are comfortable. Some are happy to reach the Heartland Championship/Premiership Rugby Shield level. But for those that wish to reach the next level, then examples like Nigel Owens, Angus Gardner or Joy Neville, will all feel respected when they blow the pea.

That behaviour is what separates the oval ball, from the round one. And Liam Flood, and LWOR resident referee Scott MacLean will agree – respect in rugby is the ingredient that must be included in any successful match.

But as Liam explains, the key ingredient is that ‘you have got to love the game’.


“Main photo credit”
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