The challenges for the international referees at the Six Nations - Ruck

The challenges for the international referees at the Six Nations

Although we are back to full capacity in stadiums, COVID is still playing its part in the Six Nations with testing and procedures put in place to protect the players, coaches and referees. 

Yet, the officials at the event are still facing challenges with travelling to and from Europe, causing changes to officials and others taking a risk of not making it home!

Alongside our partners at ACME Whistles, we caught up with Ben O’Keeffe to find out more about the challenges that international travel is posing for some of our Six Nations officials. 

Ben, who lives in Wellington in New Zealand, began by explaining his journey:

“New Zealand is still pretty strict on trying to keep COVID out and I think now that omicron is taking its hold in New Zealand, the government is trying to slow down the spread. 

“That means in New Zealand we still have managed isolation. Therefore, whenever we go overseas we have to come back into an isolation hotel for 10 days, to ensure we haven’t brought anything into the country.

“However, there’s a limited number of hotels that people can use, and any sportsmen or sportswomen from New Zealand trying to get home from overseas have to go into a ballot.”

This limited number of spaces was a factor in the final lineup of referees at the 2022 tournament as Ben explained:

“Originally myself, Paul Williams, who’s on the international circuit, and James Doleman, who’s a very good up and coming New Zealand referee who was due to have his Six Nations debut, were all trying to get a spot. 

“But in the end, only I got the confirmation to travel.

“We couldn’t even do a group booking and bunk in the same room – we tried everything. 

“I was the only one to get a spot. The other guys were about 8000th in a queue for 1200 spots for the month we were trying to get back home.”

Even though Ben did manage to get a pass to travel, his Six Nations experience is a little different to that of previous years. He said:

“Even though I’m here, I’ve still got to be really careful. The reason I’m staying in my room, is that I need to stay negative and not pick up COVID while I’m over here so I can get on that that flight back home. 

“If I do pick anything up and I miss that window, I could be stuck here for spring, maybe even the summer until I can get another slot. 

“It wouldn’t be a bad thing to stay here as I love it, but I I’d like to get home to see friends, family and referee some Super Rugby.”

To find out more about ACME Whistle’s support for rugby at all levels, visit

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