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Top 10 All-Time Best Rugby Referees in History

With the Rugby World Cup kicking off in a little over a year away, the pressure is beginning to build on players to do enough to get called up to their national team.

But what about the referees and the mounting heat on rugby’s whistle-blowers to get things spot-on every time?

With referees and their decisions crucial in all forms of the game, RUCK brings you the top-10 all-time whistleblowers to have officiated at the global extravaganza taking in longevity at the top and the high-profile games given to them.

Here are the best rugby referees in history (according to us).


10. Wayne Barnes (England)

For a number of years now, he has been an under-appreciated referee. However since emerging onto the international circuit in 2006, Barnes has become one of the most consistent match officials in the game.

Possessing a strong character, Barnes had the courage to send off Dylan Hartley during the 2013 Premiership final, and is not willing to accept negativity from players posturing for penalties. The manner in which he dealt with Fourie du Preez during South Africa’s World Cup quarter final win was a particular highlight, with Barnes telling the mouthy scrum half to stop talking and play the game.

He’ll hang up his whistle following the 2019 Rugby World Cup.


9. Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)

Spent 17 years at the top of the international game taking in the 2003, ‘07 and ‘11 World Cups before retiring in 2013.

His final test match as a referee was on 16 November 2013 when he took charge of the Namibia v Kenya match in the final fixture of the 2013 Namibian Tri-Nations in Windhoek.


8. Paddy O’Brien (New Zealand)

The former head of the IRB’s referee board got the 1999 World Cup in Cardiff underway taking charge of Wales’ no-holds-barred opener against Argentina.

In 2003 the former full-back was referee for the Australia-Ireland Pool game before taking charge of England’s semi-final victory over Six Nations rivals France.

In 2005 he was appointed an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit in recognition of services to rugby as a referee in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.


7. Stephen Hilditch (Ireland)

The former school headmaster started out refereeing Romania’s 21-20 win over Zimbabwe in the inaugural 1987 World Cup tournament at Eden Park and had Scotland’s 55-28 victory over the eastern Europeans later on.

He became prominent in 1991, officiating the Scots again in their third-place play-off defeat against the All Blacks and then four years later took charge of the Jonah Lomu-inspired New Zealand semi-final win over England.

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