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Welcome and thank you for accepting the challenge of being a rugby referee!

While refereeing rugby is vastly different than playing or coaching, the passionate community of referees and referee coaches love to help new referees join the ranks and start their own journeys with the whistle. Further, there are countless resources available to help you become adept and grow to even be an expert. To start, you only need some equipment, a willingness/drive to learn, and most importantly a love for the game of rugby.


On this page of the Society's website you can find details of logistical/practical items for refereeing.

Starting to Referee

After reading the following, you will be more than prepared for your first real game, you should call your local Area Coordinator to tell them say that you're ready for assignments, and you should get excited for the beginning of your new role in the game!

Principles that Guide the Game of Rugby

​The principle with the highest priority is protecting the safety of the players, and the remaining three principles are taken directly from the Object of the Game.​​

  1. Safety

  2. Observing fair play 

  3. Playing according to the laws 

  4. Sporting spirit 


Since these four principles are fundamental to the game itself, it naturally follows that they become the very basis from which referees officiate throughout the match. The laws define the parameters within which players and referees are expected to operate. The laws provide a platform for the game, but they are not the game itself. As said before, it is important that referees do not referee the laws; they must referee the game. 

Balancing the Art and the Science

Your goal shouldn't be to call everything, but rather it should be to manage and to help the players have the best game of rugby they can produce on that particular day. Each referee should read and understand the law book to know what they can call, and then in-game they should assess context and materiality to know when to intervene and call an offense: "enforce the rules more frequently than the traffic laws are in Massachusetts, but less frequently than the traffic laws are in Germany". Resources for both "What you can call" and "When should you call it" are compiled on the Referee Development page. 

Fitness Demands of Refereeing

Rugby can be a difficult game to judge, but the closer you are to the activity, the better the chances of making the correct call. If you have ever watched or played the game, you have some understanding of the pace and intensity involved. A solid base of distance running should be the minimum preparation done for a season, and driven referees find that some type of speed work (shuttles, fartleks, and straight-line 50m/100m/220m sprints) provides them with the necessary combination of endurance and the ability to "turn it on" when needed .

What You'll Need

While the following lists are thorough, they aren't exhaustive. Please bring anything you may want or need to perform optimally such as medication, topicals, or pain/inflammation treatments.

Essential Equipment

  • Jerseys (2 or 3 to ensure contrast from teams' uniforms)

  • Shorts with pockets

  • Socks (either black or matching your jersey)

  • Boots (light-weight molded cleats tend to best meet referees' needs)

  • Spare boot laces

  • Whistle & Spare whistle (Larger metal ones with pleasant, deep tones & you'll want either a wrist lanyard or finger grips as used by ice hockey officials)

  • Watch (Ideally a digital one with a stop watch and/or timer & record the actual time that each half starts so a touch judge can rescue you if your watch fails.)

  • Coin (Large heavy ones that lay flat on the grass are best)

  • Writing instrument & Spare (either a pen or a short pencil without an eraser & some referees attach it to their scorecard with a rubber band)

  • Scorecards (Folded index cards suffice and preprinted ones are available from the Society by contacting the Secretary at

  • Yellow and Red cards

  • Touch flags (remember to get them back from the touch judges immediately after the end of the game)

  • Law book (physical or digital)

Recommended Equipment 

  • Water bottle (never rely on the preparedness of rugby teams especially for your own hydration)

  • Ball-hand-pump and pin (for treating improperly inflated match balls)

  • Sun screen, Bug spray, & Waterproof/Plastic bag (everything you could need to battle the wilderness of New England)

  • Towel and soap (On rare occasions there will actually be proper changing facilities)

  • Short sleeve jerseys or polo shirts for pre/post-match (To reinforce professionalism and these can be purchased with NERRS's logo.)

Ruggers Rugby Supply carries most of the equipment you might need and can produce Society branded gear: Rugger's referee collectionNERRS specific store.


The Society will offer credit to the NERRS Store once per year for active referees (defined as referees who accepts five Saturday assignments in a calendar year), see Benefits of Membership for more details.

A Typical Game Day




Refereeing goes smoother when one prepares and has proper time to do so. Before departing for the game double check your kit bag, and you ought to aim to arrive at the pitch a minimum of one hour before kick-off. The items below are an overview of what referees should accomplish on game day.

Arrival Responsibilities

  1. Introduce yourself to both teams' captains and establish times that you'll handle teams' pre-match items

  2. Talk to the designated medical personnel in attendance

    • Establish where they'll be stationed during the match

    • Remind them that they may to come onto the pitch while play continues in order to attend to players injured who are away from the play.

      • You should allow play to continue unless you see it endangering the injured player or you perceive the injury to be serious enough to warrant immediate attention.

      • USARFU is encourages this in an effort to improve the flow of matches and to minimize the disruption by minor injuries.

  3. Examine the pitch

    • Ensure that the field complies with goal post padding and with crowd restraint requirements.

    • Assess if it is correctly marked, especially the goal lines and 22m lines.

    • Determine if there any dangerous items (holes/divots, manholes, fences, heavy objects near touch, etc.)?

      • Ask the home team to correct any problems that they can.

      • Alert the visiting team captain to any sub-standard conditions that cannot be corrected.

  4. Stretch and warm-up

  5. Conduct mental preparation as well as visualize positioning and other areas you are focusing on 

Team Relevant Pre-Match Activities

  1. Distribute flags and establish that teams will provide touch-judges

  2. Equipment checks

    • Boots - request replacement boot studs for unsatisfactory ones.

    • Accessories - look for rings, watches, ear studs.

    • Kits - note any duplicate numbers.

  3. Conversations with Front Row​s and Captains


  4. Coin Toss

    • Home Team flips the coin​  &  Away Team calls the result

    • Winner of the toss may either choose an end of the pitch to defend or the right to kick. (If the winner of the toss chooses end, the other team kicks off.)

Post-Match Duties

  1. Proceed through the teams' handshake lines

  2. Collect your touch flags

  3. Get the names of all players that you awarded a card from the teams 

  4. Remind coaches and captains that NERRS wants feedback for each match using the form on this site

  5. Remain accessible to both teams to answer questions on points of law or your calls

    • The encouragement to remain does not require you to put up with uncivil behavior from either team, and such behavior should be reported.

    • Try to spend at least some time at the post match social function; players often want to discuss the game (but consider it a good sign if they don't).

  6. Complete your match reporting as per these guidelines

Advice for Managing a Game 

When you take the field be consistent in your calls throughout the match, communicate to the players, ignore sideline advice, and enjoy the game.​

At halves' opening kick-offs:

  • ​Count the players on each side, especially in college or lower side games

  • Note the time of the actual commencement in case you have a stop watch failure or accidental reset

  • Start your watch before you whistle for the opening kick-off

Positioning on the field​

  • Should face the defense at most times

  • Set up either behind or alongside the event (scrum, ruck, maul, etc.)

    • Enter the picture at tackles from a consistent angle so you have a consistent picture to​​ assess

  • Try to anticipate the scrum-half's next move and to stay out of running or throwing paths.

  • When play is goal-side of the twenty-two meter line, you should be between the ball and the goal or even in goal when the ball is close to the goal.

    • Nothing is more difficult or embarrassing to a referee than to have a try scored and not be close enough to see whether or not it's a try

    • If you don't see it touched down, it's not a try

Setting Standards​

  • Establish control of the match early on

    • Call any "flashpoints" tightly, but don't blow 10 penalties in the first 10 minutes.

    • Use your voice and warn players to correct behavior without the penalty when possible

  • Talking to players at stoppages to issue warnings or reminders is usually productive

    • Keeps them aware that you are there and are watching

    • Lets them know what you are looking at

    • Provides credibility for you to call a penalty if the warned team doesn't adjust

  • Letting infractions go early on, to "keep the game flowing", encourages the offender to push limits

    • Can lead to the worst result - the offended team feeling the need to correct the situation themselves

    • If one feels that their opponent is "getting away with" something, the chances for problems increase.

      • In marginal cases, speaking a few words to the offender within hearing of the offended, helps

Ending a half

  • A half ends when the ball becomes dead after time has expired unless:

    • A scrum, lineout, or restart kick awarded before time expired has not been completed

    • The referee awards a free-kick or penalty.

    • A penalty is kicked into touch without the ball first being tapped and without touching another player

    • A try has been scored, in which case the referee allows time for the conversion to be taken

  • The halftime should be 3 to 5 minutes - use your judgement.

    • On a blazing hot day the players need more

    • When it's cold or rainy they'll be lining up to restart in about 2 minutes

Contexts to manage at the end of the match 

  • A tight game raises the chances of someone breaking the law to get the win

  • A blowout raises the chances that one of the losers may be looking to settle a grudge or prove a point

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