World Rugby has announced the referee appointments for the June international window. This year that’s a bumper crop of matches, that includes some Rugby World Cup 2019 qualifiers. But it’s the three major international series in the southern hemisphere, that we’ll take a look at.
June International Referees announced
A noticeable look to the appointments, is youth. The fixture list of names and groupings does gives many of the developing referees an opportunity to officiate International tests.
Relatively new names are in direct control; Luke Pearce of England, and Marius van der Westhuizen being two figures. They will control the NZLvFRA and AUSvIRE tests, while Ben O’Keefe is handed the whistle for the important RSAvENG opening test on the opening weekend – June 9.
Below are the three crucial June International test series, which include six of the top eight sides in World Rugby.
New Zealand v France
Starting in New Zealand, World Rugby seems to be using the series between the hosts and France as an opportunity to give two of the newer members of the international panel ‘test match experience’ far from home. Well-regarded English up-and-comer Luke Pearce will take charge of the first match in Auckland and Irishman John Lacey the third match under the roof in Dunedin. The second match in Wellington has been handed to Australian Angus Gardner, who’s last Test outing was Ireland’s Grand Slam victory at Twickenham.
Many will be familiar with Pearce, during his term as an referee for Aviva Premiership and on the HSBC Sevens Series. Pearce comes with big raps and his style isn’t too dissimilar to that of Wayne Barnes; he tends to be technically focused but plays advantage more than your typical northern hemisphere historically has though the hope is that on his first big overseas Test that he doesn’t either go into his shell or become overly officious.
Gardner’s style and areas of focus will be familiar to the All Blacks, who see him often in Super Rugby. The expectation is that he’ll look to create a flowing, open encounter.
Unlike Pearce, Lacey has refereed the All Blacks previously; having taken charge of their RWC 2015 pool match against Tonga. Like a number of former players turned referees, Lacey is more technically focused. And so, more likely to penalise indiscretions at the breakdown and set piece.
South Africa v England
Conversely the series in the Republic between South Africa and England has had a trio of big names assigned to it. The New Zealand duo of Ben O’Keeffe and Glen Jackson have been appointed to the first and third games with the vastly experienced Frenchman Romain Poite handling the second match of the series.
Unlike the New Zealand v France series, both sides will know what to expect from all three referees. Jackson and Poite both tend towards the more technical aspects of the game; and perhaps aren’t known for lengthy periods of advantage, while O’Keeffe – the youngest of the three – favours a more tactical approach by comparison.
Given both sides like to play to a highly patterned structure it will be interesting how that plays out and perhaps more so given England’s struggles in the Six Nations and South Africa having their first outings under Rassie Erasmus.
Australia v Ireland
The most interesting June international series of the three however, is in Australia. The (at times) beleaguered home side and their combustible coach Michael Cheika, take on Six Nations champions Ireland. The visitors won’t be short of support either, given the large and passionate Irish diaspora living there and in New Zealand.
The series features perhaps the most interesting group of appointments. South African Marius van der Westhuizen has the first match in Brisbane, followed by New Zealand’s Paul Williams in Melbourne, and finally Frenchman Pascal Gaüzère in the potential series decider in Sydney.
In terms of familiarity it might be ‘advantage Australia’ who at least have experience of van der Westhuizen and Williams from Super Rugby. Though both tend to let the game flow, which may play more into the hands of the Irish–given their current form and style under Joe Schmidt.
The wildcard here is Gaüzère who both teams do have a degree of familiarity with, but who’s style tends to change based on what he’s trying to achieve.
All in all, the variety of new names means that the trend of coaches assuming a style; and training to suit, can be avoided. Familiarity can sometimes breed both an acceptance and a ‘type of’ contempt. Hopefully the list of June International Referees announced, changes that trend.
Lighter workload for Senior World Rugby officials
The other area of intrigue is the light workload placed on four of World Rugby’s best. Elder statesmen Nigel Owens and Jérôme Garcès have just one match each (Japan vs Georgia and Fiji vs Georgia respectively) while the same applies for Wayne Barnes and Jaco Peyper. Barnes’ sole match is the USA vs Scotland match in Houston, while Peyper has Argentina’s second match against Wales.
The June international series are an important step towards next year’s Rugby World Cup in Japan. And that applies as much towards the referees; who want to be on the elite panel for that tournament, as much as it is for the teams themselves.
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