The International Rugby Board has had a fundamental shake-up of its refereeing structure. Most significantly its manager of referees, Paddy O'Brien, is to move from his present post to run Sevens referees, a job the IRB says is significant with Olympic participation in the offing.
That is not the end of it. The IRB has also changed the selection process, something O'Brien had pout in place, with a four-man selection committee meeting four times a year. The four are Lyndon Bray and Tappe Henning (both SANZAR) and Donal Courtney and Clayton Thomas (both Six Nations and European Rugby Cup). Bray is SANZAR's game manager which includes looking after referees and Courtney is the ERC's referees manager. All four are former Test referees who have stayed involved in refereeing administration.
That is still not the end of it. The selection committee have made changes to the IRB's top panel. Wayne Barnes, Dave Pearson and Bryce Lawrence have been dropped off while Jaco Peyper of South Africa has been brought onto the panel for the first time.
They new panel is George Clancy (Ireland), Jérôme Garcès (France), Craig Joubert (South Africa), Nigel Owens (Wales), Jaco Peyper (South Africa), Chris Pollock (New Zealand), Romain Poite (France), Alain Rolland (Ireland) and Steve Walsh (Australia).
Acting chairman of the selection committee and IRB Council member for Scotland John Jeffrey said: “The IRB is committed to ensuring that the platform is in place to promote the very best refereeing standards at the elite level of the Game. Our priority is the continued promotion of consistency and performance and our strategic goal is to deliver the best available panel for Rugby World Cup 2015 while at the same time applying the best-for-best principle in the selection of referees for each international window.”
“There will be consistent movement in and out of the panel based on form to reward the top performers and those making the step up as we build towards RWC 2015 in England. In short, this means that referees are selected on merit, in form and closer to the matches being played. All Member Unions are committed to this process, which is essential for its success.”
The committee, which also made appoints for June Tests, agreed that the key areas of the Game identified for particular focus by referees needed constant reviewing. Those five key areas, identified some time ago by SANZAR coaches and referees, are:
• All aspects of the tackle with particular emphasis to be placed on the tackler releasing the tackled player and rolling away and arriving players staying on their feet
• Offside at the breakdown
• Offside from kicks
• All aspects of the scrum, particularly the engagement process and front-row binding
• All aspects of the maul, particularly what constitutes legal maul defence
The IRB statement says: "As part of the restructure, IRB Referee Manager Paddy O'Brien has decided to step down after seven years of excellent service. Having played an instrumental role in the advancement of elite match official preparation and performance, including the management of the referee team at two Rugby World Cups, he has decided that he requires a fresh challenge.
"O'Brien will now focus his extensive experience into a similar role for Rugby Sevens, underlining the IRB’s commitment to Sevens ahead of Rugby making its return to the Olympic Games at Rio de Janeiro in 2016. He remains central to the match official process and is supportive of the restructure."
O'Brien will stay in his post until a replacement is found.
IRB Chairman Bernard Lapasset said: “Paddy’s exceptional dedication and application to driving forward elite match official standards has significantly benefitted the Game over the past seven years. He will be a tough act to follow as a Referee Manager and I am delighted that he will be channelling all his experience into preparing the best up-and-coming match officials on the HSBC Sevens World Series to ensure that the very best referees are in peak form for 2016.”
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