World Rugby has announced that Rugby World Cup 2011 final referee Craig Joubert has made the cut for the team of 12 match officials selected for the 2015/16 World Rugby Sevens Series.
The South African referee will link up with his new colleagues following the completion of Rugby World Cup 2015 and ahead of the opening round in Dubai. He will remain available for 15s duty throughout the season.
Ten officials have also been selected for the World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series, which will also kick off in the United Arab Emirates.
With excitement building ahead of Rio 2016, the desire from the world’s top 15s referees to be a part of the match officials team heightens the already tough competition for places at Rio 2016.
World Rugby Council member and match official selector John Jeffery said: “Congratulations to all the men’s and women’s officials selected for next season’s series. With Rio 2016 rapidly approaching, we are set for another record-breaking season of sevens on and off the field.
“It is exciting for the sevens referee team that a high-profile referee such as Craig has made himself available to try to referee his way into the Olympics. We all know he is an outstanding 15s referee, and having started his career in sevens, we are delighted he will be able to bring his experience and expertise into the sevens group.”
Joubert, who will take charge when France take on Italy in his first RWC 2015 match on 19 September, said: “I’m really excited by the opportunity to again referee on the World Rugby Sevens series. My dream is, through on-field performances, to put myself in a position to be considered for selection to referee at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
“Sevens rugby has progressed significantly since I refereed on the series from 2003 to 2005 and I know that the first step is to prove myself again as a capable sevens referee.
"I’ll be joining a very experienced and close group of officials on the circuit who I’m really looking forward to learning from and ultimately proving myself to them as a valuable team mate and colleague on this exciting journey for all of us.”
Meanwhile, Spanish referee Alhambra Nievas said she is looking forward to the new season kicking-off: “It will be both a special and important season for our team of referees as we continue to chase our Olympic dream. We are all working very hard to be at the top of our game for the upcoming season. The pace of the game is going up so we need to improve and challenge ourselves. I'm really looking forward to the start of the season in Dubai"
Men’s referee panel: Richard Kelly (NZRU), Matt O’Brien (ARU), Marius van der Westhuizen (SARU), Federico Anselmi (UAR), Craig Joubert (SARU), Alex Ruiz (FFR), Nick Briant (NZRU), Mike Adamson (SRU), Ben Crouse (SARU), Rasta Rasivhenge (SARU), Anthony Moyes (ARU) and Taku Otsuki (JPN).
Women’s referee panel: Leah Berard (USA), Alhambra Nievas (ESP), Sara Cox (RFU), Gabriel Lee (HKRFU), Jess Beard (NZRU), Amy Perrett (ARU), Beatrice Benvenuti (ITA), Rose LaBreche (CAN), James Bolabiu (FIJI) and Rasta Rasivhenge (SARU).
The Men’s World Rugby Sevens Series has been extended to 10 stops for the 2015/16 series, with Cape Town, Sydney, Singapore, Vancouver and Paris new additions to the circuit. Dates for the World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series will be announced in due course.