A respected South African referee has made the cut on a five-man list of the greatest whistleblowers in rugby history.
According to a Ruck.co.uk compilation, Andre Watson is the only match official from the southern hemisphere worthy of a place in the top five, with the South African coming in at second place. He is joined by two Welshmen, an Englishman and a Scot.
Ruck’s top-five greatest refs of all time:
1. Nigel Owens (Wales)
Uniquely popular among players and supporters, Nigel Owens is known as much for his one liners as he is for his officiating. The Welshman, who took charge of the 2015 Rugby World Cup final referees games in a positive manner, looking to keep the game flowing by being quick to penalise players who do not roll away or release. Although some criticise him for becoming the centre of attention, Owens has built up a good relationship with players who respect him in turn. Hung up his international whistle in December 2020 after reaching 100 tests during the Autumn Nations Cup.
2. Andre Watson (South Africa)
The Stellenbosch University graduate remains the only man to referee two World Cup finals having overseen the Australia-France showdown at the Millennium Stadium in 1999 as well as England’s 2003 victory over Australia. That year he also was the man in the middle for arguably one of the greatest games in World Cup history when Shane Williams burst onto the Test scene in that thrilling 53-37 defeat to the All Blacks in Sydney.
3. Jim Fleming (Scotland)
Incredibly spent 18 seasons as an international referee and his World Cup CV takes in four tournaments between 1987-1999 (he and Derek Bevan are the only two referees to achieve this feat). After a low-key start in 1987, Fleming refereed England-New Zealand four years later plus the Ireland-Australia quarter-finals and Australia-New Zealand in the last four. His big game in 1995 was the South Africa-Samoa quarter-final while he was the man in the middle for the South Africa-England last eight clash in ‘99 as well as the France-New Zealand semi-final.
4. Derek Bevan (Wales)
The Clydach official spent 16 years at the top including taking charge of 11 World Cup games spanning four tournaments. At club level, Bevan’s career highlights include taking charge of the 1997 European Cup final between Brive and Leicester and refereeing the Welsh Cup final on four occasions. Since his retirement from refereeing, Bevan has worked as a Television Match Official (TMO) but retired in 2016. Outside of rugby, Bevan worked as a training officer for BP‘s chemicals division in Port Talbot.
5. Wayne Barnes (England)
With over 200 Premiership games and three Rugby World Cups on his CV, the barrister is rightly recognised as one of the most elite referees of his generation. One of the best whistleblowers in the game today.
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