So you’re interested in becoming a referee, well done. Apart from playing it is one of the most satisfying contributions you can make to the game of rugby. Males and females are equally welcome, here are some of the more commonly asked questions about becoming a referee.

Why should I become a referee?

Refereeing a closely-fought game of rugby is one of the most exhilarating things you can do, the pressure of making the correct decision in an instant is a huge adrenalin rush for most referees. You could join that band of decision makers.

Some of the reasons why people take up refereeing include:

  • To remain active in the game
  • To give something back to the sport
  • Having an injury that stops the person from continuing as a player
  • Realising that they may reach higher honours as a match official than as a player
  • The enjoyment of being involved in one of the greatest team sports.

Is there an age limit?

Generally, the earlier you start refereeing, the better but there are certain legislative aspects one needs to take into consideration. The recommendation is that you may start refereeing from the age of 16 years but a senior referee will shadow/mentor you until you turn 18.

How much time does it take?

In any sport, success requires commitment, and it’s no different in refereeing. In addition to fitness training, there’s the Law Book that needs to be studied and society meetings that must be attended. Many provinces also hold weekly meetings where the previous week’s games are discussed and refereeing techniques investigated in more detail. Games are frequently on Friday nights and Saturdays, so there is a real time commitment.

Download a copy of the RSA Law book here

What previous experience do I need?

People with previous playing experience have an advantage over someone who’s never played, but this is not a limiting factor. If you’re prepared to put in the effort, watch school and club games, and matches on TV, and diligently follow the training programme, there’s no doubt you can become a competent referee.

What is the training programme?

There are a number of core courses that need to be successfully completed before you can take up the whistle.

World Rugby Level One – Introducing Officiating

This is an eight-hour programme designed to enable budding referees to acquire the basic skills to officiate safely and enjoyably. It includes the playing charter, individual core skills, communication, positional play and the role of the touch judge. 

More information on all the World Rugby courses is available here

Assistant Referee

Where there are suitably trained touch judges in place, their function has been upgraded to that of Assistant Referee. This upgrade entitles them to play a more meaningful role in the administration of the game and provide an additional set of eyes and ears for the referee to rely on.


All referees and coaches in South Africa must undergo a BokSmart safety course. The objective of this programme is to ensure coaches and referees encourage and enforce high levels of player safety in order to minimise player injuries. This certification is valid for two years and must be renewed as required.

More information on BokSmart is available here

National Exam

Every year referees must write the National Laws Examination. This is done on a provincial basis at a date and time coordinated by the provincial referee society.

To quickly test your Law knowledge click here to go to the quiz on this website

Fitness Tests

All referees must undergo regular fitness tests as the ability to keep up with play and be in a suitable state to make clear and rational decisions is what the role is all about. These typically occur at the beginning and midway through the season. The standard measurement tool is a multi-stage fitness test commonly known as the Bleep Test/Yo Yo. It’s a widely acknowledged tool to measure an athlete’s VO2 max state.

Results from the Bleep Test are one of the criteria used to promote or relegate referees. A referee on any of the SA Rugby-controlled panels will need to meet or exceed a Bleep Test of 12.5.

Do I get paid?

Refereeing at school or club level in South Africa is largely amateur with no pay-for-whistle fees in place. However, most schools and provincial societies do provide financial remuneration in the form of travel allowances or subsidised clothing to offset the costs of refereeing. At this level you should not be refereeing for the money!

If you make it onto one of the referee panels you will receive a game fee for each match refereed. South Africa has four full-time professional referees and, in addition to being well paid, they enjoy frequent international travel, often staying in some of the best hotels and exotic locations. At the top it is a well paid and extremely rewarding occupation.

How is the referee set-up structured?

Rugby is governed through 14 provincial unions that come together to form the South African Rugby Union (SARU). Clubs and schools in each province are affiliates of the local union, together with the provincial referee society. The 14 provincial referee societies are, in turn, affiliates of the SA Rugby Referees’ Association (SARRA) and this is affiliated to SARU.

All organised rugby in South Africa is administered through the provincial unions and ultimately SARU. All registered referees are members of their provincial society and, again, ultimately members of and subject to the disciplinary code of SARRA.

For more information on SARU click here

Can I become a Test referee?

The reality is that there are far fewer Test referees than international rugby players, so to make it to the very top is a long and uncompromising road to travel. But it can be done and South Africa has produced some of the best referees in the world. André Watson is the only person to referee two IRB Rugby World Cup finals, Jonathan Kaplan remains one of the world’s most-capped Test referees and Craig Joubert refereed the 2011 IRB Rugby World Cup final.

It all starts with small steps and once you have been accepted as a member of a provincial society, your success is largely in your own hands. You’ll be expected to start at the bottom and work your way through the ranks. With hard work and some good fortune, it’s possible to end up as a Test referee.

What about player/spectator abuse?

Player and spectator abuse is part and parcel of modern-day sport. However, rugby is one of the codes that’s determined to reduce the frequency and severity of this phenomenon, and the provincial unions as well as SA Rugby have taken significant steps in this regard.

The National Referee Recruitment and Awareness Campaign is designed to educate the public about the laws and change negative attitudes towards referees.

Rugby is a tough and physical game but the Laws of the Game make specific provision to outlaw referee abuse.

Code of Conduct 

All registered referees and referee administrators in South Africa, whether on any of the SARU Panels/Squads or not, are subject to SARRA’s Code of Conduct. 

More information regarding SARRA’s Code of Conduct can be read here.

Within the playing enclosure and according to Law 6.5.a, the referee is the sole judge of fact and of law during a match. As this is an onerous and responsible position, it’s vitally important that the referee conduct him or herself beyond reproach at all times.


Get started now

Become a Referee

* = required fields.

* advert