Fit for the job

Referees should have suitable physical training to support accurate decision-making.

Since rugby union gained professional status in 1995 the game has changed significantly, as a result of numerous rule changes and improved physical and technical training for players amongst other factors. These changes have also increased the physical and decision-making demands on rugby union referees during matches.

A team of New Zealand researchers, led by Matthew Blair from Otago Polytechnic's Institute of Sport and Adventure, investigated the physical requirements of refereeing rugby union at an elite level. They carried out a meta study of research into refereeing at an elite level in rugby union and comparable sporting codes. They found that rugby referees usually work within a range of 80% to 90% of their maximum heart rate, which indicates that they need a high level of aerobic fitness. This high intensity activity however is intermittent. Examining the movement and distance travelled by referees suggests that most of the game time is spent in lower intensity activity. Referees officiating international matches (likely to have greater experience at elite level) seem to have learned to conserve energy, perhaps by being better able to read and anticipate play.

It is likely that there is some link between physical conditioning for referees and the accuracy of their decision-making although this relationship is complex. Rugby union referees need to be able to get into the best position to see what is happening on the field throughout the whole 80 minutes of play, and physical fatigue may also adversely affect their mental performance. The research team have used their findings to develop training recommendations for elite level rugby union referees.

March 2018