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‘A huge honour’: Why the Rugby World Cup is the pinnacle for referees

By Finn Morton
(Photo by Dan Mullan - RFU/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

After four years of blood, sweat and hard work, it all comes down to this. The Rugby World Cup is the most prestigious event in the sport, and it’s less than four months away.


If there’s one thing that all players, fans, coaches and referees can agree on, its that the World Cup is an incredibly special and unique rugby event.

Hundreds of athletes will realise their childhood dreams at this year’s World Cup in France, as 20 proud nations go head-to-head in the pursuit of the Webb Ellis Trophy.

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Again, it all comes down to this. This is the biggest tournament in rugby union, and players only get one shot at the sports ultimate prize every four years.

For some rugby players, this will be their last time on the sports biggest stage – for others, potentially their first of multiple trips to the World Cup.

History will be made in France – the World Cup is simply that special to players and fans, and the same can be said for referees.

Last week, World Rugby announced the 12 referees for this year’s Rugby World Cup. Among the talented and experienced group, New Zealander Ben O’Keeffe was selected.


O’Keeffe is widely considered one of the best referees in the southern hemisphere, if not the world. In a recent interview, O’Keeffe spoke about how the Rugby World Cup is the pinnacle for referees.

“Obviously it comes around every four years, you start building up to it, you start thinking about it,” O’Keeffe said on Weekend Sport with Jason Pine.

“To finally get there, to get to another World Cup is a huge honour, and it’s awesome that we’re getting four of the kiwi match officials there.

“I think it goes to show where we’re at in the match official space here in New Zealand.”

Since making his Test debut back in 2015, O’Keeffe has gone on to referee some of the biggest names in international rugby.


Having officiated Super Rugby, Six Nations and Rugby Championship Test matches, the 34-year-old appeared to be a lock for the Rugby World Cup.

In fact, during the British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa in 2021, O’Keeffe was in charge of the second Test – that’s unique.

“You build up, you don’t sort of get chosen two months out from the World Cup if you’ve been refereeing well, you’ve actually got to be refereeing well consistently since the last World Cup,” he added.

“You go through cycles of Six Nations, Rugby Championships once you’re at that level.

“If you’re consistently refereeing at that level and you’re consistently getting appointments in those competitions, you sort of know you’re in the running.

“Then you still have to referee well in your domestic leagues and if that goes all well, then you get the phone call that a few of us received last week.”

As one of only 12 referees for the World Cup, O’Keeffe expects to officiate at least three pool matches later this year.

O’Keeffe could also referee knockout matches, but he won’t be able to participate in any matches involving the All Blacks.

“They pick 12 referees… referee all the pool games, and obviously you’ll be in consideration for the quarters, semis and the final.

“You referee about three pool games… I expect to go there to referee about three pool games and probably AR, or be assistant referee for about three or four as well so it’ll be pretty busy.

“Some of the politics… the politics really is that you can’t referee your own nation.

“As we all want, we want the All Blacks to go deep, we want them to win the tournament, but if they make the quarters, they make the semis and hopefully they make the final, it just means they’re the games I won’t be involved in.

“It’s all down to how you referee to get there, and once you’re in the tournament… if you can referee well, they’ll put their trust in your to take over the big games in the knockout stages.”

This year’s Rugby World Cup in France gets underway in September with a highly anticipated Pool A clash between the hosts and New Zealand.


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1 Comment
Rob 397 days ago

Please learn how to spell, 'refereeing', Finn!!

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