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Match officials

Beginner's Guide - Match officials

The match is under the control of the referee and two assistant referees.

Match officials

The match is under the control of the referee and two assistant referees. Depending on the level at which the game is being played, there may be other officials behind the scenes such as a time keeper or television match official to adjudicate on replays. Referees for major international competitions or windows are appointed by World Rugby

The referee

Renowned referee Alhambra Nievas joins World Rugby
Following her retirement, Alhambra Nievas has been appointed as World Rugby Referee Development Manager

Before the match, the referee will usually speak to the front-row players (the props and the hookers) from both teams, to run through the scrum engagement procedure. This helps to focus the minds of all concerned on this essential phase of the game. The referee then organises the coin toss with the captains prior to the match to decide who kicks off. During the match itself, the referee is the sole judge of fact and of Law. It is essential that all players respect the referee’s decisions at all times.

Assistant referees 

Two assistant referees, one on either side of the field of play, assist the referee in matters of when and where the ball goes into touch and on any other issues as required by the referee. The assistant referees also adjudicate on the success or otherwise of kicks at goal.

Foul play

Foul play is anything a player does which is contrary to the letter and spirit of the Laws of the game, including obstruction, foul play, dangerous play and misconduct. The referee must sanction appropriately for foul play.

Becoming a match official

Becoming a referee or assistant referee is a unique way to experience rugby.

Most people who become match officials have played the game themselves and are now looking to give something back to the game they love, but this does not necessarily have to be the case. Anyone can learn refereeing, even from a young age. In fact, for anyone aiming to get to the top of the refereeing profession, starting young is a good idea.

As a match official, you are at the heart of the action and so see the game from a unique perspective. It’s a great way to get lots of good exercise, and to test yourself against many challenging situations. Refereeing is not easy, but can be hugely rewarding.

To become a qualified match official, start by asking your club, regional body or national union about training courses near you. World Rugby provides courses for all levels of participant, from novice through to experienced match official.

A basic level training course can be completed in one day, and when combined with some game sense which can only be gained through exposure to rugby as a player or spectator, can set you off on the road to becoming a referee.


Rugby Beginner's Quiz

Rugby Beginner's Quiz

New to rugby? Find out how much you know about the game.