The IRB Junior World Championship has long been a launch pad for the future stars of the Game but the Under 20 tournament is also a great place for aspiring match officials to hone their skills ahead of the Test arena.
Nine referees from nine different countries have travelled to north-west France to officiate at this year's tournament and Tappe Henning, a member of the IRB Match Official Selection Committee, sees the Junior World Championship as a great environment for up and coming referees.
“We see ourselves as the 13th eam here at the Junior World Championship,” explained Henning. “It’s as important to develop the referees as it is the players at this tournament. They are the next generation of match officials and we want to prepare them for Test rugby.
“It’s good to give them the challenge of refereeing at a JWC and expose them to new challenges. We have referees from both the southern and northern hemispheres and as the style of rugby differs in each hemisphere it’s good to get them all together in one place.
"We are really widening the net also when it comes to getting referees from different countries, as we now have referees from Japan and Italy here.”
With Rugby World Cup 2015 approaching fast, the match officials at JWC 2013 will be looking to impress if they are to make the England 2015 panel and follow in the footsteps of their peers who have followed the same pathway, including Romain Poite, Jérôme Garces, Glen Jackson and Chris Pollock, who takes charge of the first Test between Australia and the British & Irish Lions on Saturday.
Constant learning process
The man given the honour of refereeing the JWC 2013 final between Wales and England at the Stade de la Rabine in Vannes on Sunday is Mike Fraser, the first New Zealander to have this opportunity with the Baby Blacks having contested the five previous finals, winning on four occasions. He will be assisted by Australia's Andrew Lees and Mathieu Noirot of France.
Fraser is only too aware of how important the Junior World Championship is for the development of referees:
“It’s hugely important to come and experience new rugby as you don’t always get the opportunity to ref in tournaments, so it’s great to come and spend a few weeks with other referees at a tournament with such high quality play on offer,” admitted Fraser.
"There are nine of us from different countries here and the atmosphere is great. We have had some time away from rugby also to bond which has been really nice and everyone has got on really well.
“With all the technology available now we can really prepare well for matches and our post-game analysis is getting better and better so the standards are always getting higher. It’s a very thorough process and we take time to analyse where we can improve and how we can learn.
"It’s a constant learning process and the atmosphere at the JWC is very supportive.
“To be able to ref the final is huge for me. With New Zealand not being in the final it’s the first time a New Zealander can actually ref the final so it’s a massive honour.”