The referees, as well as the players, need to be fit for the demands of elite rugby.
The lead referee in particular is required to move extensively and rapidly around the field to position themselves around play to accurately enforce the laws of the game. Matthew Blair, a Principal Lecturer in Sport, Exercise and Health, and his international collaborators quantified the on-field movements, heart rate and rate of perceived exertion (RPE) of lead referees during matches in the Rugby World Cup 2019.
For each game the lead referee was fitted with a heart rate monitor and GPS device. The on-field movements (distance, average speed, high-speed running), heart rate and RPE of 11 lead referees were assessed during 29 Rugby World Cup (Knockout and Pool) matches. Average speed and heart rate were assessed using rolling average methods. On average each referee covered 6675m per game, of which 586m was high-speed running.
The results for Pool and Knockout matches were compared, and showed a large reduction in high-speed running distance and moderate reductions in average speed during Knockout, compared to Pool matches. Differences between Pool and Knockout matches on other measures of referee movement, heart rate and RPE were trivial.
These results provide knowledge to assist in preparation of rugby union referees for future Rugby World Cup competitions. The development of appropriate conditioning programs will help ensure referees are adequately prepared for the maximum demands of refereeing at this level.