Nigel Owens (Wales)
The oldest referee in the tournament and the most experienced – he has controlled more Tests than any other official – he takes charge of the opening match between Japan and Russia, one of four group games that end with England v Argentina. It is his fourth World Cup and he took charge of the 2015 final. Has a penchant for one-liners, though with few players likely to be fluent in English on the opening night, they will have to be for the camera.
Wayne Barnes (England)
England’s leading referee is also involved in his fourth World Cup and is contemplating retiring after the event to focus on his career as a corruption and bribery lawyer. He has the other pool match where English-speaking players are likely to be at a premium, Georgia against Uruguay, but nothing is likely to be as testing as 2007 when the then rookie took charge of the quarter-final between France and New Zealand, although he does start with Ireland against Scotland.
Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
The only South African among the 12, Peyper was given the opening match of the 2015 tournament between England and Fiji but failed to make the knockout stage. He controlled this year’s Super Rugby final and will reach a half-century of Tests in Japan. He will referee the potential pool decider between England and France and last November was slated by the Australia coach, Michael Cheika, for seeing nothing sinister in a high, try-saving tackle by Owen Farrell at Twickenham.
Romain Poite (France)
He is the most experienced of the four French referees who will be in Japan (Ireland, Scotland, Argentina and Italy do not supply one between them, merely a couple of what used to be called touch judges). Poite used to be a detective in Toulouse but now tackles a different sort of law-breaker. One reason for the prevalence of officials from the other side of the English Channel is their willingness to take tough decisions and reach for the red card. The policeman has never left Poite.
Pascal Gaüzère (France)
He refereed Wales’ victory over England in Cardiff last month, allowing the decisive try when Wales took a penalty quickly as Anthony Watson was leaving the field on his way to the sin-bin. Eddie Jones was not amused and reflected that it was Gaüzère who should have seen yellow. He was involved in the 2015 World Cup and has sent off four players in Tests since that tournament, more than any other official, mostly for dangerous tackles.
Jérôme Garcès (France)
He is another French official who gets high and mighty, and New Zealand will have noted he has been given their first match against South Africa, the highly likely pool decider. It was Garcès who sent off Sonny Bill Williams during the second Test between the Lions and New Zealand in Wellington and last month dismissed the All Blacks second-row Scott Barrett for a no-arms challenge. He officiated the 2015 semi-final between New Zealand and South Africa and is a contender for this year’s final, should France not find their way there.
Mathieu Raynal (France)
His Test career has been a slow burn, partly because of injuries. His first match was in 2009 but he did not make his Six Nations debut until this year, running the line in the 2015 World Cup. He had the whistle when Ireland defeated New Zealand for the first time in 2017, having the previous year sent off the Ireland back-row CJ Stander for a dangerous challenge on Pat Lambie, who was later forced to retire because of the cumulative effect of head injuries.
Luke Pearce (England)
He is the second youngest official among the 12, born five months after the first final in 1987. He is one of five who will be refereeing in a World Cup for the first time. He took up the whistle at the age of 16 and in 2009 became the youngest official to be appointed to the RFU’s national panel. He took charge of his first Test involving a tier one nation only two years ago and starts with Wales against Georgia.
Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Another first-timer in the World Cup and the youngest of the referees at 30, he has progressed in the last three years despite generating controversy over a relative high tolerance threshold over dangerous challenges. He was in charge of Wales’ match against Australia last November when Leigh Halfpenny was taken out by Samu Kerevi, an incident similar to the one involving Stander and Lambie. The Wallabies are involved in his first match, against Fiji.
Angus Gardner (Australia)
He owned up to a mistake after England’s victory over South Africa last November, saying he should have penalised Owen Farrell for a shoulder-led tackle on André Esterhuizen and given the Springboks the opportunity to kick for victory. Earlier in the year, he had sent off the France full-back Benjamin Fall for a dangerous tackle on Beauden Barrett only for a judicial committee to rule he made the wrong call. There should be no confusion this tournament over high and reckless challenges.
Nic Berry (Australia)
He is one of the least experienced referees at the World Cup, but he has been given some high-profile matches this year, including July’s draw between New Zealand and South Africa in Wellington. He played for the Reds, Racing 92 and Wasps before concussion forced him to retire at the age of 28. He took up refereeing in 2015 and has overtaken another former player turned whistleblower, Glen Jackson. He will be in charge of England’s match against the USA.
Paul Williams (New Zealand)
He played for three years for York after graduating, and rose to prominence as a referee last season. He was in the middle at Twickenham twice, for the victory over Japan and the draw against Scotland, and handled the opening match of the Rugby Championship. Earlier this year he admitted he was surprised to be on the list for Japan because he had refereed fewer Tests than the others. He has been allocated four group matches, including England’s opener against Tonga.
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