Referees Corner – Issue 8 – Montpelier

February 28, 2021 in News

Who would be a ref?

Who would be a Ref? The familiar cry in virtually all team sports has been heard in rugby circles down through the years but in some ways rugby is becoming one of the most attractive sports to referee in the world of sports, apart from when the referee is being lifted up by players after disallowing tries that is.

At the dawn of professionalism World Rugby recognised pretty quickly that for the game to move forward with these seismic changes referees would have to move forward with the times. Professional referees were needed and the various unions set about establishing National and international panels of referees. Today the IRFU has one of the strongest panels of the leading unions and announced a couple of years ago that they had made the move to reward seven referees  with  professional contracts. These referees receive dedicated coaching, analysis and support for their strength & conditioning and nutritional needs. Many of these referees were already IRFU staff. 

Referees provide a vital function in servicing all levels of the game. Refereeing is also a fantastic hobby and is increasingly becoming a genuine alternative to playing the game. Whether you have aspirations to referee at the highest level or to referee locally, there is a place for you. There are excellent support structures in place to develop referees and a thriving social aspect too.

Many followers of other sports will often refer with envy to the respect referees receive on the field of play, the general lack of back chat, the respect afforded and the strong punishment handed down for players who don’t control themselves on the pitch. Throw in a professional contract and the opportunity to travel far and wide and you surely would have had huge numbers lining up to take up the whistle.

Well, not exactly. Refereeing numbers in Ireland are still low today and the IRFU and Leinster Rugby Referees are constantly looking for more clubs to actively promote refereeing as a viable option among club members. They are also looking to introduce a younger age group to the benefits of refereeing on the international stage.

How does the process work once someone signs up?

  1. Sign up to a recruitment course: The IRFU and Leinster run a number of courses a year in each province and advertise these in match programmes and on the Irish rugby website. The day long courses introduce perspective referees to the basics of refereeing.
  2. Become a trial member  and attend one of a series of workshops in your province. Perspective Referees receive a trial pass and start to referee each week where they will be assessed.
  3. After graduating from the trial panel and attending a wide range of courses, the new member will join the Level 1 and Level 2 panels, which is for referees with medium to long term potential where they will referee up to Junior League level. They will also attend a number of coaching workshops.
  4. The next step is Level 3 where the referee has been identified as having potential for the National panel. here they will referee Junior 1 games and attend a number of workshops.
  5. The next step is to be put onto the IPAS (Inter Provincial Assessment Panel) panel (level 4). This is where you referee outside your province and are assessed by members of the other associations or society as it is known in Ulster. The IPAS system means the whole country has a similar type of scoring system and is proving to be an efficient away to assessing referees who are looking to get onto the National Panel
  6. Once you pass through IPAS you are now fully qualified to referee on the National B panel and can referee at Junior, All Ireland League Division 2 and 3 and a range of under age inter provincials.
  7. The next step is to become a National A panel referee. There are currently 17 referees in this position and they can referee matches up to All Ireland League Division 1A and B and touch judge in the Pro 14 League before hopefully graduating to the contracted panel of 15 referees. 
  8. The final step is to become an international referee. Not for everyone, but we can all dream.


Have you just finished playing and find yourself wondering how you can stay involved in rugby? Or maybe the recent pandemic has opened your eyes to your free time and flexibility and has you looking for a new challenge. Then perhaps refereeing is the next step for you. Increasingly, more and more players who have decided to hang up the boots are continuing their rugby journey by taking up the whistle.

Why? Refereeing is an excellent way to maintain your fitness level after you retire. You are still getting out on the pitch and enjoying the game from the best seat in the house. Your playing experience will certainly also stand to you in terms of your ability to read the game and in understanding what the players are trying to achieve.

All of the provincial associations/societies have members who are former players, and they referee at all levels from underage right up to the All Ireland League. Some have even progressed into High Performance and officiate at the highest level. Andrew Brace, Frank Murphy, Alain Rolland and Joy Neville all enjoyed distinguished playing careers before taking up the whistle. 

If you only wish to referee in your own club or school then the Affiliate Referee Scheme is for you. The Affiliate Referee course can be done online and is available on the IRFU website.

Feel free to make contact with the Leinster Rugby Referees at  If you are interested in becoming a referee get in contact with us through our Facebook and Google + pages, our website or through twitter @leinsterreferee.