There is no doubt that Luke Pearce has become one of the most popular referees in the world. There is even a montage video on YouTube titled ‘5 minutes of Luke Pearce being Luke Pearce!’ with over 170,000 views (see below). He is cherished for giving clear and concise explanations and letting play continue. Pearce also doesn’t take any nonsense from players.
In the recent fixture he officiated between Scotland and Ireland, Pearce penalized Jamie Ritchie for questioning his decisions, which has caused plenty of debate online. Fans may perceive this decision differently, but Pearce has certainly become one of the most talked about referees. Last Word on Sport spoke to Luke Pearce about social media, mental resilience, and how he feels about his profession.
In terms of allowing the game to flow, this is no accident from Pearce: “I believe that part of the referee’s role is to attempt to make the game as good as possible. If we were to referee every law in the book then it would turn people away from the sport! My philosophy is to allow play to flow where possible but applying the law as I believe it should be interpreted”.
Luke Pearce’s early years and managing the ‘big moments’
Like many of us, Pearce started playing rugby as a youngster. He reminisces that he “enjoyed being part of a team and playing with friends”. But after watching his father Andrew (an RFU referee of over 25 years) officiate across various clubs, Luke grabbed the whistle at just 16 years old. He rose through the ranks quickly and received officiating accolades at a young age.
In 2009, he became the youngest referee to join the RFU National Panel, meaning he was in charge of Championship fixtures at just 21. When he officiated Gloucester Vs Worcester in 2011, winger Tom Voyce thought it was a student who had entered the Kingsholm dressing room. Perhaps overseeing wily veterans as a youngster helped him develop a composed mindset for the blockbuster fixtures. Pearce explains that plenty is done to ensure referees are primed mentally: “Part of the job is to manage ‘big moments’. You’re fully aware when these are apparent. TV cameras at every game make you aware of when something falls into this category. We work with a sports psychologist to empower mental resilience, allowing us to make the best decision possible. “We already do a great deal of work as part of our weekly meetings at ensuring that everyone is ok, especially after more difficult matches”.
Luke Pearce on Social Media
Pearce has previously criticized trolls on social media but seems more than capable of dealing with them. One rugby fan recently spent a paragraph grouching about Pearce, claiming that he believes himself to be “god’s gift”, to which Pearce simply replied, “Chill out Jack”. But the English referee acknowledges the challenges officials face online: “(Social Media) has given everyone a voice. This isn’t always a bad thing, but can cause much debate as a lot more people have an opinion compared to years gone by. It is a referees’ decision to be on social media or not, and if you are on it then you must be aware that it comes with the potential of attracting mass criticism as well as praise. It can also impact family life as well, so all must be carefully considered and measured.
“Social media and how we work alongside it will always be a work on. It isn’t going anywhere so we must learn to embrace it and change peoples’ ideas about why we are on it”.The modern stresses placed on referees no doubt make the job challenging. However, Pearce is incredibly grateful for his profession; “What has transpired to become my career is something I didn’t think would happen but have been lucky enough to fall into. It can be all-consuming at times, but overall it’s incredible to do something that you started as a hobby, as your job”.
With all the trolling, scrutiny, and criticism referees face, it is incredibly pleasing that Pearce overall enjoys the role. From refereeing Crediton 2s Vs Newton Abbott 3s as a teenager to Rugby World Cups and Six Nations matches as a professional, it certainly has been a rapid rise for the Devonian.
Note: for the Guinness Six Nations, Pearce has been the match referee on several occasions. His latest appointment was for Scotland v Ireland (Sunday March 12). He was assisted by long-time comrade, Wayne Barnes (RFU) and has fulfilled
Last Word on Sport offers huge thanks to Luke Pearce for his interview with LWOS Rugby.
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“Main photo credit World Rugby facebook“