‘It’s very hard to be 100% all the time’ – Rugby World Cup referee hangs up his whistle

Jared Wright
Referee Mathieu Raynal gives directions to platyers during the Rugby World Cup quarterfinal match between England and Fiji at the Stade de Marseille in Marseille, France.

Referee Mathieu Raynal gives directions to platyers during the Rugby World Cup quarterfinal match between England and Fiji at the Stade de Marseille in Marseille, France.

French match official Mathieu Raynal has today announced that he will retire from refereeing following the July international window.

A veteran of 49 Test matches, Raynal will become the fourth Frenchman to take charge of half a century of international matches, following in the footsteps of Romain Poite, Jérôme Garcès and Pascal Gaüzère before hanging up his whistle.

It is reported that Raynal will remain in rugby and play a role in the French Rugby Federation’s setup.

Mathieu Raynal

A respected referee, Raynal has officiated two Top 14 finals (2016 and 2021) and was involved in three Rugby World Cups, assisting in 2015 and taking the main role in 2019 and 2023.

During his two World Cups as the main man in the middle, he officiated seven matches. Five of those were at France 2023 and included the quarter-final between England and Fiji.

Raynal also refereed in eight Six Nations Championships and five Rugby Championships while he also took charge of the final British and Irish Lions Test against South Africa in 2021.

“This sport has given me a lot, and refereeing it at the highest level for all these years has been a privilege and a great honour,” Raynal said.

“After 18 years in the professional game and almost 350 games refereed, the end of the season will be time to bring to an end an activity which I have deeply loved and which has given me unforgettable experiences on pitches all around the world.

“Even if I had the power to do so, I would not change anything in my journey to this point, including, above all, the most difficult moments. Those moments awoke me to the limitless power of courage, fortitude and resilience, and they also allowed me to enjoy the good times with even greater relish and intensity.

‘Your job is to referee the game’ – Heated exchange between Wales coach and referee during Six Nations clash

“I thank my family and my friends, for everything. Thank you to the FFR, to the LNR, the staff at World Rugby, to the players, coaches and my refereeing brothers in arms. The trust, friendship and support which I have received from them during the course of my career are immeasurable and will remain the greatest treasure of my journey.”

Raynal is currently the 13th most-capped Test referee in history and fourth-highest Frenchman behind Poite (73), Garcès (55) and Gaüzère (52)

He added: “To continue refereeing would be to start again on a four-year cycle until the 2027 World Cup; I will be 46 years old by that stage. Today, I am defending a position among the five best referees in the world, and it is very hard to be 100% all the time. Today, I can make the effort. But will this still be the case in a year, or in four years?”

Loose Pass: Rugby Europe ‘frustrations’, referees ‘need space’ and binning 20-minute red cards

World Rugby pay tribute to Raynal

World Rugby Elite Men’s 15s Match Officials Manager Joel Jutge added: “I would like to thank Mathieu for everything he has done for the development of international refereeing.

“He has always performed at a high technical level, but he has also been an excellent team-mate for the group of match officials, sharing all the knowledge he has gained over more than a decade at the top to help the less experienced match officials progress on the world stage.

“Our group always appreciated his strength of character, his convictions, his leadership, not forgetting his unstoppable sense of humour. He was a great part of our organisation. We are certain that he has inspired young hopefuls who will be keen to follow in his footsteps in the very near future.

“He’s a happy man, and I’m delighted. I wish him all the best for his new adventure.”

World Rugby Chairman Sir Bill Beaumont added: “Mathieu is a fantastic referee and should be incredibly proud of what he has achieved at the highest level of the game. We are certainly proud.

“It takes a special type of person to thrive as an international match official and he has done that superbly over the last decade. Mathieu is a great role model for aspiring referees, a great person, a credit to his nation, and will be remembered as one of the very best.

“He has played a huge role in the advancement of officiating on the world stage and cares deeply about supporting the next generation of match officials, and I am pleased that he will be putting his extensive experience to good use as he begins an exciting new chapter.”

READ MORE: Loose Pass: ‘Sharp-eyed’ Austin Healey v TMOs and depowering scrums