The first round of matches at the World Rugby U20 Championship 2015 in northern Italy has come to an end and, with excitement levels increasing, it’s not just the players who have been giving it their all in the thrilling encounters witnessed so far. 

The U20 Championship has always been a great environment in which to develop and challenge players with almost 350 of them having already gone on to win full international honours. However, what isn’t always noticed is the behind-the-scenes work put into progressing and establishing the next crop of referees, a duty that World Rugby High Performance Match Officials Manager Joël Jutge takes very seriously.

Players performing at this year’s U20 Championship in Italy will be hoping to step up to the full international stage in the coming years, an ambition shared with many of the officials in Italy. Eight of the 12 referees on the Rugby World Cup 2015 panel, namely JP Doyle, Jérôme Garcès, Pascal Gauzere, Glen Jackson, John Lacey, Jaco Peyper, Romain Poite and Chris Pollock, all took charge of matches at previous editions of this tournament, using it as a stepping stone to bigger things. And Jutge believes this is no coincidence.

“The U20 Championship is a great opportunity to see how up-and-coming referees react in high-intensity, high-pressure situations in a tournament environment. If you look at the top referees who are involved at international level, the majority have gone through this age-grade competition. A huge number of promising players and promising referees have proven themselves in this event. This is a first step towards the highest level,” he said.

Empathy and feel for the game

The match officials at this year’s U20 Championship have a responsibility to ensure that every game is played fairly and within the laws of rugby while also demonstrating an empathy and feel for the game. 

These ambitions are reflected in their rigorous training schedule. After every match, the referees’ performances will be reviewed so no mistakes will go unnoticed. Referees must also pin-point an area in which they will concentrate on in a particular match, something Jutge says should be based on “the teams’ strengths and weaknesses and also according to the referees’ own areas of required development and previous refereeing performance”. 

In choosing the referees for certain tournaments, the selection panel must consider development potential and previous performances in order to get the right balance. Some tournaments can be used to bring forward inexperienced referees with recognised potential while others require the very best match officials in the world.

“It depends on the type of tournament. For the U20 Championship, we take into account their development potential but for the Rugby World Cup we consider their performances in the past two-three years at the highest level. For Rugby World Cup they must have a proven record of refereeing consistently to a high standard in top, tough games,” he explains.

Attitude is very important

The referees’ off-field attitude is also very important to Jutge. He emphasised his wish to see his team carry their experiences together into the future. 

“I wish to see guys happy living together as a team during an event which they will remember all their lives. The values of a man and a group are very important in my eyes,” he said.

It will be interesting to see where this year’s U20 Championship match officials will be in a few years’ time. Perhaps we will be watching some of them run out at Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan or even 2023, wherever that may be. However, regardless of where they end up in their careers, there is no doubt that the U20 Championship gives them a huge opportunity to reach their potential.

The referees selected for the World Rugby U20 Championship 2015 are: Mathew Carley (RFU), Gary Conway (IRFU), William Houston (ARU), Shuhei Kubo (JRFU), Lloyd Linton (SRU), Brendon Pickerill (NZR), Elia Rizzo (FIR), Juan Sylvestre (UAR), Ben Whitehouse (WRU). In addition, Shaun Veldsman (SARU) was selected as television match official.