World Rugby has announced the match official appointments for the RBS 6 Nations 2017, which gets underway in February.
Appointments were made by the World Rugby Match Official Selection Committee at its recent meeting in Dublin and follow a detailed review of all performances in the past two months.
The championship opener between Scotland and Ireland on Saturday, 4 February in Edinburgh will be refereed by Romain Poite of France with his compatriot, Jérôme Garcès, taking charge of the last match, on Saturday, 18 March between Ireland and England in Dublin.
Poite and Garcès, along with England's Wayne Barnes, have received two appointments each with a total of 12 referees involved. New Zealander Ben O'Keeffe and France's Mathieu Raynal will make their championship debuts when they take charge of Italy v France in Rome and England v Scotland in Twickenham, respectively, on 11 March. O'Keeffe (27) refereed his first of three full internationals in June of this year while Raynal already has 10 tests under his belt, most recently in October when he took charge of the Ireland v New Zealand match in Chicago.
As announced yesterday, Craig Joubert from South Africa has retired from test refereeing to take up the role of Referee Talent Development Coach for World Rugby. In total, Joubert took charge of 69 tests during his career including the Rugby World Cup 2011 final in Auckland.
As usual, the appointments for the 15 championship fixtures feature a blend of northern and southern hemisphere match officials. Several of the assistant referees being used for this year's Six Nations are graduates of the 2013 and 2014 World Rugby U20 Championship.
World Rugby Match Official Selection Committee Chairman Anthony Buchanan said: "We are very much on the road to Rugby World Cup 2019 now and, as we build our team towards that, we are conscious of the need to provide talented, up-and-coming officials with an opportunity to perform at this level while also ensuring that the best games are overseen by the best referees.
"Ben O'Keeffe is an exciting prospect and, having performed well at Super Rugby level and in some tough test matches this year, we are delighted that he will be taking charge of a Six Nations game for the first time. Equally, Mathieu Raynal has impressed us since really stepping up to the top level this year and fully deserves his Six Nations Championship debut.
"Meanwhile, our focus for this group of elite match officials continues to be clear and consistent decision-making coupled with the highest standards of physical conditioning.”
The selection system allows for movement in and out of the panel based on form and rewards the top performers and young referees who have graduated through the performance pathway. Every performance is closely scrutinised and reviewed to ensure accountability. In addition, there is regular consultation with coaches with their feedback helping to inform selection decisions.