Australian Nic Berry will take charge of the first Test
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Australian Nic Berry will take charge of the series-opener between the British and Irish Lions and South Africa next month, with New Zealander Ben O’Keeffe and Frenchman Mathieu Raynal overseeing the second and third Tests.
Brendon Pickerill, also from New Zealand, will be the Television Match Official for all three Tests, while Pascal Gaüzère is to referee the Lions’ fixture against Japan at Murrayfield on June 26.
Berry, a former scrum-half who played under England head coach Eddie Jones with Queensland Reds, receives the biggest appointment of his officiating career just three years after his first ‘tier one’ Test match between Ireland and Argentina.
He recently took the whistle for the Super Rugby AU final between his former side and the Brumbies, won at the death by the Reds in Brisbane.
Raynal is the only referee of the Test series trio to have featured in the recent Six Nations, having overseen Ireland’s victories over Italy and England. The Frenchman, O’Keeffe and Berry will assume assistant referee duties over the three Tests.
World Rugby have explained that, due to a need to maintain a Covid-19 bubble, the five tour matches will feature “non-neutral officials”. Wayne Barnes and South Africans Jaco Peyper and AJ Jacobs are to share the Lions’ games against Emirates Lions, Cell C Sharks, Vodacom Bulls, South Africa ‘A’ and DHL Stormers.
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Meanwhile, Irishman Andrew Brace will return to Twickenham for England’s meeting with USA on July 4, with veteran Romain Poite in charge when Canada visit the same venue to face Jones’ charges the following weekend.
Graham Mourie, chairman of World Rugby’s match officials selection committee, said: “The July Tests represent an important milestone for the match officials as they prepare for Rugby World Cup 2023 in France following the disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic over the last year.
Ben O'Keeffe, left, will referee the second Test
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“While travel restrictions and other Covid-19 considerations have been observed, a bumper schedule of matches provides an excellent opportunity for a wider group of match officials to take charge of Test and representative matches over the period, and we are delighted to see the likes of Nika Amashukeli from Georgia making his debut in a Test involving a Six Nations team [Wales vs Canada].
“The British and Irish Lions Tests against South Africa and Japan are a natural focus for rugby fans – and congratulations to Pascal, Nic, Ben and Mathieu on their appointments – but I would also like to extend my congratulations to everyone selected. I am sure they will do their nations proud.”
This feels like a changing of the guard as far as international refereeing is concerned. While Nic Berry, Ben O’Keeffe and Mathieu Raynal were all part of the 23-member team of officials for Rugby World Cup 2019, and drew praise, none of them was appointed to a knockout game.
Those occasions were shared between Jérôme Garcès, Nigel Owens, Jaco Peyper and Wayne Barnes.
There is a familiar split between northern and southern hemisphere officials for the Lions series – although Super Rugby’s format changes due to the pandemic mean that South Africa’s players will not be as familiar with the two Antipodeans as they might have been otherwise.
Four years ago in New Zealand, a pair of experienced Frenchmen in Romain Poite and Garcès featured across the series. Peyper, due to appear in this year’s tour matches, was given the remaining Test.
Just as in 2017, the three men will comprise the on-field team for the entire series, those without the whistle acting as assistants. The team will be completed by Pickerill, TMO on three successive weekends.
Despite this consistency, players on both sides will still have to adapt to the individual styles of each referee. Raynal, for instance, allowed both defences to compete fiercely at the breakdown in his last two international outings – Ireland’s 48-10 victory in Italy and their 32-18 win over England in Dublin on March 20.
World Rugby outlined that “a thorough review of performances” has been considered in their selection policy and Gaüzère’s omission from the 2021 Test series could well be a consequence of confusion and controversy during Wales’ win over England in the Six Nations, specifically the tries from Josh Adams and Liam Williams that were allowed to stand.
Frenchman Mathieu Raynal will referee the third Test
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In the aftermath of that match in Cardiff, won 40-24 by the hosts, Joël Jutge, World Rugby’s head of match officials, revealed to French publication Midi Olympique that Gaüzère had found the events “tough cases to handle” and he should have identified a knock-on by Louis Rees-Zammit in the lead-up to Williams’ finish.
Berry, criticised by some following a 20-8 penalty count in favour of the Reds in the Super Rugby AU decider, will warm up for the first Test between the Lions and South Africa by refereeing Maori All Blacks’ match against Samoa on June 26 and New Zealand’s meeting with Fiji on July 10.
O’Keeffe, who refereed a hotly-contested Super Rugby Aotearoa decider between Crusaders and Chiefs, is the man in the middle for Samoa vs Tonga on July 10 and Australia vs France on July 18.
Raynal’s sole appointment before the Lions tour is Ireland’s match against USA on July 10.