GET TO KNOW THE REF: Matthew Carley

Matthew Carley is one of England’s leading rugby officials and was the first person to be offered a RFU refereeing scholarship at the University of Gloucestershire, which ran alongside his sports science degree, and the first ever referee in the world to officiate a professional game wearing “RefCam”.

Now with over 100 premiership games under his belt and a regular on the international rugby scene, he is part of the elite group of English referees employed by the RFU. 

Name: Matthew Carley

Age: 36 years young!

Height: 6 foot 1” 

Fitness regime: I pretty much follow the plan that’s given to us by our strength and conditioning trainer at the RFU. It’s a combination of running, lower body weights for injury prevention, then lots of core and mobility, stretching and yoga.

Home town: I’m based in Deal in Kent. A great sport on the coast.

No of years referring: 20 and counting.

No of games refereed (prem/international/total): I’ve done 100 in the Premiership. About 40 in the European Cup and European Challenge Cup; 20 capped internationals as a referee and another 75 in the championship. 

First game as a ref:  Aylesford 3rd team against next Maidstone 4th team

First premiership game as a ref:  London Welsh versus Worcester on the 13th of May 2013 – I only know that because I recently got 100 and someone sent me an article which was linked to the first game.  

First international as a ref:  My first ever international was Russia against Portugal in the European Nations Cup, and then my tier one V tier one game as a referee was Australia versus Italy in Brisbane.

Favourite stadium to ref in: If I had to ref one last game it’d have to be a full Twickenham!

Who is your sporting hero? I’m a cricket nut so Jimmy Anderson – however if it had to be someone from Rugby, then it’d have to be Martin Johnson. I was watching the 97 Lions documentary the other day – he was awesome. 

What is your whistle of choice? That’s an easy one, the ACME Thunderer. 

What’s the biggest moment in your career? Obviously going to the World Cup was amazing. It wasn’t quite the the prize I wanted as a referee, but I went as a reserve referee which was amazing. Japan was unreal. It was an experience that left you wanting more and strive to be apart of it again four years later. So, I’d have to say, selection for the for the Rugby World Cup and the whole experience around it. 

Who inspired you to pick up the whistle? My Grandfather. He was the one who supported me through the harder moments when I first started and made me keep going when I was 18 / 19 / 20 years old and rather have been playing or socialising with my friends.  My grandfather was the driving force behind me for a long time. 

Which area of the game is the hardest to referee?It probably depends what our focus is on at any given time, but also the teams playing and the weather conditions. If you get two sides wanting that want to put the ball in and get it out of scrum  quickly, and don’t particularly want scrummage for penalties – then it can be the easiest part of the game to ref. However, if you get two sides that don’t want to engage with each other, or just aren’t good match, or both who see the scrum as their way of gaining territory and field position – it can be the most difficult.

At the moment we have a big emphasis on space around the kick chase. Although it sounds simple to stop players in front of the kicker moving forward, it’s a big field and there’s 15 players on each team. 

It’s difficult to say one area of the game is more or less difficult to referee, as it can be so different from game to game.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen on a rugby pitch? One thing that comes to mind was when I refereed a game fairly early on. I think it was Bracknell or verses Chippenham in a level 5 game, where a guy played with his false leg. He played in the back row and I remember physically his upper body strength was as good as anyone you’d see at that level. The thing that stuck in my memory was before the game was not knowing how to approach it in terms of checking it before the game for safety – it all took me a little by surprise. I’ve never seen it since so was a one-off experience for me. 

Who is the best player you’ve refereed? In current times, Dupont is formidable at the moment, just a different class. In terms all the payers that I’ve refereed, I’ve got to say Jonny Wilkinson. I came across him at a game in Toulon and he was untouchable in his time!

Who is the toughest player you’ve refereed? A difficult question. When I first started refereeing in the Premiership Steve Borthwick was one of the guys who was pretty intimidating. Hs saw that everything was on ‘his terms, whether you like it or not’. He had such presence. I think you learn how to deal with people like that as a ref, but Steve Borthwick, was as tough as they come. 

What three things would you take to a desert island? If I was going to have to do any exercise, one thing would have to be my foam roller. My son is always mocking that I’m always using it! Next, plenty of tea bags, cause I love a cuppa; and finally, possibly a cricket ball and bat.

Do you have any hidden talents? What’s your party trick? Not that maybe I should say out loud! 😉

Who would be your three dream dinner party guests, and why? I think it’d have to be Jimmy Anderson and Jonny Wilkinson – I’m a bit of a sports nut so would be great to chat with them all night … not sure who’d make up the last, would have to take applications 😊

What would you like to achieve outside of rugby?  To be honest, I’m not absolutely sure. We do talk about having a plan for life after rugby as it doesn’t last forever. I’ve got my teaching qualification to fall back on maybe.

Whilst in Rugby I’d like to be inspirational to everyone who’s watching – so after rugby is to be respected for what I achieved and how I went about my business.

Which two teams would you love to referee? As an English referee, you look at the Bledisloe Cup or New Zealand v South Africa. They are the two games are would probably be the most precious. To be appointed to go referee in the southern hemisphere and gain their respect would probably be the ultimate.

How do you prepare for a game? Do you have a pre-game ritual?I don’t think so. I’m not superstitious or one of these people who puts things on in a certain order. The only thing I have, more often than not, before a game is a brew!

Are any of your family also referees? My grandfather was a ref and was a massive inspiration in getting me into it all. 

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