The Australian official talks Lions, lifts and league

Meet rugby referee Nic Berry

A former scrum-half, Nic Berry spent nearly a decade playing professional rugby, first for the Reds in Super Rugby and then for Racing 92 and Wasps in Europe.

He was forced to retire in 2012, aged 28, following a series of concussion and subsequently made the switch to refereeing.

He took charge of his first Super Rugby match in 2016 and was one of the 12 referees selected for the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.

He is also part of the refereeing panel for the British & Irish Lions 2021 series against South Africa. He will have the whistle for the first Test and then be an assistant for the second two matches, with Ben O’Keeffe and Mathieu Raynal refereeing those.

Ahead of the series, we caught up with Berry to talk Lions, lifts and league.

Nic Berry Q&A

How excited are you about refereeing the Lions? 

Growing up I loved watching the Lions tour the southern hemisphere, and with the best of the north taking on the current world champions it’s bound to have extra significance.

Unfortunately, there won’t be the touring party you’d traditionally expect with a Lions tour, which is a shame. Nonetheless it’s a great opportunity and I’m humbled to have been selected to referee one of the Test matches.

What do referees get up to on tour?

It’s different to my days as a player and something that took me a little while to get used to. When I toured as a part of a squad you’d usually have activities organised for you and you could simply choose what to do on your days off. As a match official you’re largely left to your own devices and you might be touring by yourself for long periods of time.

Thankfully the referee fraternity usually reaches out and you’re welcomed into their homes. It’s wonderful to be able to get a local’s perspective on life in the various cities and the opportunity to get a home-cooked meal is always welcomed after extended stints in hotels.

I’ve made some great friends both from my playing days and now as a referee. So no matter where I land there’s always someone to catch up with. It’s one of the greatest aspects of our game.

Are there jokers on the refereeing circuit?

Wayne Barnes has the whole world thinking he’s an eloquent barrister but he’s got a complete other side to him. It’s certainly nothing sinister but he’s got a healthy dose of rascal in him and loves a drink and a good sing-a-long.

Another of the English referees, Matt Carley, is one of the funniest blokes I’ve met through rugby. He’s incredibly sharp with his tongue and everyone is fair game. Thankfully Luke Pearce bears the brunt of Matt’s attention so you’re usually pretty safe if Luke’s about.

Has Wayne ever pranked you?

He’s not really a practical joker, we’re all probably a bit old for that. But Wayne certainly leads the charge when it comes to organising the social events for the group. He’s been doing this since he was 21 so he’s well connected around the globe.

Personally, Wayne’s been great for my development as a referee. He’s incredibly generous with sharing the knowledge he’s gained over his refereeing career which has been invaluable for someone like myself, who didn’t come through the traditional pathway and started a lot later than the other guys.

Do you have any nicknames?

I’ve had a nickname from school (Bez), which has stuck with me throughout my rugby career. There’s no elaborate story behind it as it’s simply a shortened version of my last name.

Do you have any phobias?

Not really. Growing up in Australia tends to ensure you’re not scared of stuff like spiders and snakes etc.

Who would you like to be stuck in a lift with?

Do I have to choose someone? At the risk of running out of oxygen I’d prefer to be in there by myself. I don’t mind being by myself so it wouldn’t bother me.

What would be your Mastermind specialist subject?

Nineties rugby league. I grew up watching a lot of rugby league throughout the Nineties – it was the ARL back then – and I knew every player in every team.

My brother and all my mates were so into at the time, we had playing cards and all sorts of memorabilia.

Even now, we’ll reel off players from back in the Nineties that we used to watch, talk about dream teams and how’d they match up against players of today.

Read more from this interview with Nic Berry in the August 2021 issue of Rugby World magazine – on sale now.

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