IRB changes referee appointment restructure – Paddy O’Brien loses job

Obviously a late night in the IRB press office after this was leaked to the BBC’s excellent rugby correspondent Alastair Eykyn.

IRB unveils referee selection restructure
(IRB.COM) Saturday 24 March 2012

– Paddy O’Brien will now focus his extensive experience on Sevens
– Selection committee to convene four times per year
– Referee panel for June internationals announced
– Process building towards Rugby World Cup 2015
– Process allows for movement in and out of the Panel based on form
– Paddy O’Brien to step down as IRB Referee Manager and transition to new Rugby Sevens role

As part of its ongoing review process and commitment to ensuring consistency and that the best referees are selected on form to officiate in the biggest matches in the run up to Rugby World Cup 2015, the IRB has announced a restructured and more streamlined selection process overseen by a vastly experienced committee.

The committee, which includes former elite referees Lyndon Bray, Tappe Henning (both SANZAR), Donal Courtney and Clayton Thomas (both 6 Nations), will now meet four times per year and make selections for the next international window with all performances reviewed as part of the next round of international selections.

Following a thorough review of performances during the recently concluded RBS 6 Nations, the selection committee commitment to promoting consistency has been reflected in the latest selections with nine elite referees appointed to the top games in what is a busy June international window that also sees the beginning of the schedule involving tours to Tier 2 Unions.

They are: 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.”
Underscoring its commitment to ensuring selection on form, there will now be four selection meetings per year to tie in with the four international windows. At each meeting, the referee panel for the next international window will be reviewed and named.
The committee agreed that the key areas of the Game identified for particular focus by referees needed constant reviewing. Those five key areas 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
As part of the restructure, IRB Referee Manager Paddy O’Brien has chosen to take on a new challenge after seven years of excellent service in his present role. 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.

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. 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.”
The process for replacing O’Brien will be announced in due course.

Click here for the Summer appointments

Interesting move and while I can understand the move to a more transient pool, I just can’t see how some of those have made the list at the expense of those not on this time. But then again, I’m not a former Elite referee (like Bray, Henning, Courtney or Clayton) with access to all the data and “objective” analysis. I’d reckon that Wayne Barnes will be back sooner rather than later! Of all of those, Id suggest he would be the real test of the ‘people moving in and out of the pool’ concept. We know he’s one of the best and even if you suggest his Scot 6N game wasn’t his best, his form and consistency over the years has to keep him in good stead.

I’d also just add that I’d like to see someone like Ed Morrison go for the top job. Clearly a world respected official, he has been running the RFU Elite Referee Unit for a few years now. When I suggested that on twitter last night, a retweet from Mr Eykyn to his 12,000 followers would suggest I may not be alone!!