A run down of the referees behind the whistle at the 2023 World Cup in France - Ruck

A run down of the referees behind the whistle at the 2023 World Cup in France

In association with ACME Whistles.

With the Rugby World Cup announcing their panel of referees for the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France, the team at Acme Whistles and RUCK, have once again come together to find out more about the team behind the whistle. 

The line-up includes some familiar faces with full referees from the Gallagher Premiership Including Wayne Barnes Matthew Carley, Luke Pearce and Karl Dixon; yet some new faces are also joining the team. 

Also, for the first time in World Cup history, there is the welcome addition of Joy Neville from Ireland who will join the officiating team as a TMO.

Fellow TMO Ben Whitehouse, joins the list of TMO’s at the tournament following in his father’s footsteps with Nigel Whitehouse refereeing and a TMO at the World Cup in 2003.

In association with Acme whistles, we take a look at the referees at centre stage who will be overseeing the World Cup games later this year. 


Nika Amashukeli (Georgia)

The now veteran referee from Georgia had more than 16 tests under his belt before the age of 29. Part of the Six Nations refereeing squad, Nika was centre stage for the Scotland V France game in Paris back in February.

Nika is one of the rising stars on the global refereeing scene. 

Born in Tbilisi in 1994, Nika started playing rugby at the age of 11. Playing flanker Nika moved into centre where he represented Georgia at under 17, under 18, and under 19 levels. 

However, having suffered five concussions by the age of 20, broken an ankle and developed a knee injury, he decided to retire from playing. 

Since taking up the whistle in 2013 he quickly grew as a referee with his test debut just two years later in 2015. He became the first Georgian referee in history to oversee a tier one game when he took charge of Wales V Canada in July 2021. 

Read more about Nika here when our partners at ACME Whistles caught up with him.

Referee, Nika Amashukeli shows Will Goodrick-Clarke of London Irish a red card during the European Challenge Cup Rugby match between London Irish and Cardiff Blues at The Brentford Community Stadium, Brentford, London on April 2 2021. – PHOTO: Micah Crook/PPAUK

Wayne Barnes (England)

Wayne Barnes is undoubtedly one of the leading international referees in World Rugby today. He has refereed matches in the World Cup, Six Nations the Rugby Championship and Pacific Nations Cup. 

On the 5th of November 2022, Wayne Barnes refereed a match between Wales and New Zealand at the Autumn Nation Series, his 100th international match as a referee, equalling the record previously set by Nigel Owens. 

Born on the 20th of April 1979 in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, Wayne started playing rugby at the age of 8, taking up refereeing just seven years later.

Since then, Wayne has become a regular referee in the English Premiership and has also been centre stage at the Heineken Cup and the European Cup challenge. 

Internationally, Wayne continues to break records and inspire many others in refereeing.

Referee, Wayne Barnes during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby Match between Bristol Bears and Bath Rugby at Ashton Gate on 29 Jan. Photo: Phil Mingo/PPAUK

Nic Berry (Australia)

Nic is one of the few former Super Rugby players to have also refereed a match in Super Rugby. He has become a leading referee on the international circuit selected as one of the referees for the 2019 Rugby World Cup. 

Born in March 1984 in Brisbane, Nic took up refereeing after Nearly a decade playing professional rugby for the Reds in Super Rugby and then for Racing 92 and Wasps in Europe. He retired from playing back in 2012 due to injury and a series of concussions. 

Having taken charge of his first Super Rugby match in 2016, he officiated the final of the under 20s World Championships in 2017 and joined the World Rugby panel the same year overseeing the game between Scotland and Samoa.

His first tier one Test Match was in 2018 between Ireland and Argentina and in 2019 and 2020 he refereed in the Six Nations. Nic was also one of the 12 referees selected for the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.

Andrew Brace (Ireland)

Andy brace represents the Irish Rugby Football Union as a referee and was an international player for Belgium. Throughout his career he’s refereed matches across Europe and internationally becoming widely recognised as one of the world’s leading referees. 

Born in Cardiff, Wales, in 1988 Andy worked as a community rugby officer for Munster Rugby. It was during a school tournament that he was first asked to referee a match because they were short of an official. 

Meanwhile he was asked to play for the Belgium national team, qualifying to represent Belgium through his father’s family. He helped Belgium win the 2012 Emirates Cup of Nations. His international playing career ended after a run of injuries.

Andy quickly took to refereeing, encouraged by John Lacey, and was soon a regular on the domestic and European circuit.

Having overseen matches in 2016 at the under 20s Six Nations championship and the under 16s Rugby World Championship Andy quickly moved onto his first Test Match in May 2017 between England and the Barbarians. 

Since then and he has been a regular on the international Test Match scene having previously been appointed for the Rugby World Cup and Six Nations.

The team at ACME Whistles were able to catch up with Andy little while ago to find out a little more about how he got into refereeing. Read more about Andy here.

Referee, Andrew Brace consults with the TMO after a tackle in the air by Siya Kolisi, Captain of South Africa on Joe Marchant of England during the Autumn Nations Match between England and South Africa at Twickenham Stadium on 20 November 2021. Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

Matthew Carley (England)

Matt is a regular referee in the English Premiership and has officiated games at domestic, European and international level – now a regular face officiating Test Matches around the world.

Born in Dover in 1984, Matt attended the Dover Grammar School for Boys where he found his love of rugby. It wasn’t until the age of 16 when Matt first picked up the whistle for a game between Aylesford 3rds and Maidstone 4ths.

In 2004 the RFU created a new refereeing scholarship, and Matt was the first to be offered the honour to study at the university of Gloucestershire alongside a sports science degree. 

Matt grew in refereeing and took charge of domestic National One and Two level Championship games in 2010, before taking charge of his first English Premiership game in 2013. In the same year Matt became the first ever referee to officiate a professional game wearing “RefCam”.

Matt broke onto the international scene in 2015. His first World Rugby appointment saw him oversee a game between the United States and Russia, and his first Tier 1 international was in 2016 between Scotland and Georgia. 

Since then, Matt has featured in the Six Nations and other major tournaments around the world.

The team at ACME Whistles were able to speak to Matt about his journey into, and through, his refereeing career. Click here to read more. 

Referee Matthew Carley during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby Match between Sale Sharks and Bath Rugby on the fourth weekend of the Return to Rugby campaign as rugby continues after COVID 19 lockdown at AJ Bell Stadium on 13 Sep. Photo: Steve Bond/PPAUK/Gallagher

Karl Dickson (England)

Karl is a former English Premiership player having played for Harlequins between 2009 and 2017. He joined The Rugby Football Union’s Professional Game Match Officials team in 2018 following his retirement from rugby. 

Born in August 1982 in Salisbury, England, Karl started his refereeing journey in 2014 whilst still playing for Harlequins. He made his refereeing debut at a school 7’s tournament in Reigate, before taking charge of schools, clubs, juniors, sevens, as well as local and national league club games.

Karl quickly progressed into the English top leagues refereeing two semi-finals between Exeter v Newcastle in 2016 and Gloucester v Wasps in 2017.

He made his Six Nations debut in 2022 when he oversaw the game between Scotland and France at Murrayfield. Karl was an assistant referee at the 2019 World Cup, making His debut in the centre at this year’s World Cup.

In association with the team at ACME Whistles we were able to catch up with Karl to find out more about him and his journey into refereeing. Click here to read more. 

Referee, Karl Dickson during the Gallagher Premiership Match between Exeter Chiefs and Sale Sharks at Sandy Park on 12 June 2021. Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

Angus Gardner (Australia)

Angus was named world rugby referee of the year in 2018 and has overseen internationals in the biggest stadiums around the world. 

Born in August 1984 in Sydney, Australia, Angus started refereeing at the age of just 15 when he injured his back. 

Just some of the accolades Angus has amassed include his appointment for the IRB Junior World championship in 2012 and 2014 and in 2015 Angus was appointed as an assistant referee at the World Cup. 

Angus’s first tier one Test Match was in 2016 since which he’s overseen games at major tournaments including the Six Nations and The Rugby Championship. 

His biggest highlight however was refereeing France V Argentina, Japan V Ireland, and Wales V Uruguay at the World Cup in September 2019. 

Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)

Ben is one of New Zealand’s leading rugby union referees overseeing domestic, Super Rugby and Test Match games around the world. 

Born in January 1989 in Blenheim, New Zealand, Ben first started refereeing in 2008 at the age of 19, becoming a professional referee in 2013.

Making his international debut during the 2015 World Rugby Pacific Nations Cup, Ben officiated a game between Fiji and Tonga. 

Just one year later, Ben took charge of a historic match between Samoa and Georgia which ended in a 19-all draw. The same year Ben also oversaw his first Six Nations game. 

Ben now regularly referees both Six Nations and Rugby Championship tournaments and was the youngest referee at the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan where he oversaw the games between Australia V Fiji, France V USA and Japan V Scotland.

In association with our partners at ACME Whistles we managed to speak to Ben O’Keefe to learn a little more about the man behind the whistle. Click here to read more. 

Referee, Ben O’Keeffe watches the TMO for a tackle against George North of Wales during the Guinness Six Nations Match between England and Wales at Twickenham Stadium, Twickenham, London on March 7 2020. – PHOTO: Cameron Geran/PPAUK

Luke Pearce (England)

Luke is one of the leading English referees representing the Rugby Football Union. A regular on the international rugby scene, Luke has officiated in the English Premiership at European level and internationally on the biggest stage.

Born in Pontypool in 1987 – but growing up in Exeter, England, – Luke first joined the Devon Referee Society in 2005 at the age of 16. 

Having played rugby at junior level with the likes of Exeter Saracens Rugby Club he turned his attention to refereeing to continue his time in the sport. In September 2005 Luke first picked up the whistle for a game between Crediton 2nds and Nuneaton Abbott 3rds. 

Rising quickly through the ranks Luke became the youngest referee on the RFU National Panel in 2009. 

By 2011 Luke was overseeing his first Premiership match between Gloucester V Worcester and joined the team for the World Seven Series the same year.

His first international was in 2013 when he took charge of a game between Romania and Russia in the European Nations Cup. The following year Luke made his Six Nations debut.

In 2019, at the World Cup in Japan, Luke was involved in eight games – three of which he refereed including Wales v Georgia, South Africa V Canada, and New Zealand v Italy – and the other five as an assistant referee.

Alongside our trusted partners at ACME Whistles, we were able to speak to Luke to find out more about the man behind the whistle. Click here to find out more. 

Referee, Luke Pearce during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby Match between Harlequins and Wasps at The Stoop, Twickenham on 28 Sept. Photo: Phil Mingo/PPAUK/Gallagher.

Jaco Peyper (South Africa)

Jaco rose through the South African ranks quickly making his Super Rugby debut in 2008. In 2011 he was named as an official for the Junior World championship in Italy taking charge of the final when New Zealand beat England. 

Born in 1980 in Bloemfontein South Africa, Jaco has played, coached and refereed – turning to a role as an official after serious injuries as a player. 

Since then, he has overseen over 56 test matches and more than 116 Super Rugby clashes (at the time of writing). 

Having been part of the officials squad for both the 2015 and 2019 Rugby World Cup, he is no stranger to the biggest games and biggest occasions in the sport. At the last World Cup in Japan Jaco refereed group games between Argentina V Tonga, Japan V Samoa, England V France – and then oversaw the quarter final clash between Wales V France. 

Referee, Jaco Peyper watches the TMO for a potential shoulder charge during the Autumn Nations Match between England and Australia at Twickenham on 13 November 2021. Photo: Micah Crook/PPAUK

Mathieu Raynal (France)

Born in Perpignan, France, in 1981 Mathieu now officiates at the highest level of rugby and is on the World Rugby Referees Panel, returning as a referee for his second World Cup appearance as a referee. 

Before refereeing Mathieu played locally and was part of the successful junior team that won the junior championships in France. 

His refereeing career started in 2001 when he joined a local referees society. Mathieu was promoted from refereeing amateur rugby matches to the second division of France’s professional rugby structure in 2006, and quickly moved onto his first professional game as a match official between Grenoble and Toulon.

Mathieu’s first Test Match was between Malta V Netherlands in 2008 at the European Nations Cup, with his first Tier One fixture in 2012 – an Autumn international between Scotland and Tonga.

In 2022 Mathieu oversaw the Bledisloe Cup between Australia and New Zealand.

At the time of writing, to date Mathieu has overseen 36 test matches including fixtures at the Six Nations and the 2019 World Cup where he refereed South Africa V Namibia, Australia v Uruguay, and Scotland v Russia. 

Referee, Mathieu Raynal during the Heineken Champions Cup Round 4 match between Gloucester Rugby and Exeter Chiefs at Kingsholm Stadium, Gloucester, Gloucestershire on December 14. – PHOTO: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

Paul Williams (New Zealand)

Whilst still playing scrumhalf at club level, Paul started refereeing at a junior level in 2011 and was appointed to New Zealand’s High Performance Referee Squad in 2014. 

Since then, Paul has risen quickly through domestic and international ranks becoming a fulltime referee in Super Rugby and a regular on the international rugby scene.

Born in Waverley Taranaki, New Zealand, in 1985, Paul joined the Super rugby panel in 2016 and refereed five matches in his debut year. In 2018 Paul moved up to international level taking charge of the second test between Australia and Ireland in Melbourne, England v Japan, and Scotland V Argentina. 

To date, Paul has overseen 27 test matches from under-20’s games to tier one international clashes, including 2022 Six Nations Match between England and Scotland, and 2019 World Cup games including England V Tonga , Georgia V Fiji, and Argentina V USA. 

Also featuring at the World Cup will be:

Assistant Referees

Chris Busby (Ireland)

Pierre Brousset (France)

James Doleman (New Zealand)

Craig Evans (Wales)

Andrea Piardi (Italy)

Christophe Ridley (England)

Jordan Way (Australia)

Television Match Officials (TMOs)

Brett Cronan (Australia)

Tom Foley (England)

Marius Jonker (South Africa)

Brian MacNeice (Ireland)

Joy Neville (Ireland)

Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand)

Ben Whitehouse (Wales)

For more information on ACME Whistles and to learn more about becoming a referee visit www.acmewhistles.com