First refs for each RWC

On Friday night in the City of Lights, Tony Spreadbury will have the honour of blowing the whistle that will set the 2007 Rugby World Cup going. He is the sixth referee to start a World Cup.

The man who blows the first match in a tournament is always important. He sets a standard.

The first one – the very first referee to blow a whistle at a Rugby World Cup – was Bob Fordham of Australia. Fordham, now a life member of the New South Wales Rugby Referees’ Association, refereed seven Tests in his short international career which started in 1983 and ended in 1987 – Canada vs USA, England vs Wales, France vs Ireland, Argentina vs France in two Tests, Italy vs New Zealand and France vs Romania.

The last two were at the inaugural World Cup. The match between the All Blacks and Italy was the very first. Fordham signalled the first try in a World Cup – scored by Michael Jones in his first Test for New Zealand, the first penalty goal, kicked by Grant Fox, the first conversion, kicked by Grant Fox, and the first dropped goal, kicked by Oscar Collodo of Italy. He blew the first final whistle after the All Blacks, scoring 53 points in the second half, had won 70-6.

That first World Cup match was played on a Friday, as is the case in 2007. It drizzled that afternoon and Eden Park was only half full. It will be different on Friday night in Paris.

The second World Cup started with a bang – the World Cup holders against the host nation – New Zealand against England at Twickenham. The man to start the 1991 World Cup on an autumn afternoon was Jim Fleming of Scotland, one of the great referees of rugby history. When he retired he had refereed 39 Tests, second in number only to Derek Bevan.


His Test career stretched from 1985 to 2001. He was at World Cups in 1987, 1991, 1995 and 1999. He refereed the semi-final between New Zealand and Australia in 1991 and in 1999 the semi-final between New Zealand and France at Twickenham, a dramatic match. His last international was Scotland vs Barbarians in 2001, the only Scottish referee to referee a match in which Scotland played.

New Zealand again won the opening match of a Rugby World Cup, this time beating England 18-12. Again the first try of the match was scored by Michael Jones – the only try of the match. Again Grant Fox kicked a conversion and a penalty goal. (He goaled four penalties altogether.) Again the All Blacks’ opponents scored a dropped goal. This time the kicker was Rob Andrew. It is the only time in five World Cups that the home team has lost the opening match.

Jim Fleming, a quantity surveyor by profession, was born in Edinburgh on 8 July 1951. In 2002 he was made MBE.

The opening match in 1995 was at Newlands on a sunny day in May after a stirring opening pageant. Again the holders played the hosts – Australia vs South Africa. The referee this time was Derek Bevan of Wales, the man who refereed the 1991 final at Twickenham. For him the opening match at Newlands was more special than the final four years earlier. Bevan refereed his first Test in 1985 and went on to referee 45 Tests all told, a world record. Apart from the final and the opening match Bevan also refereed semi-finals in 1995 and 1999. Like Fleming he refereed at four World Cups.

William Derek Bevan was born at Clydach in Wales on 3 September 1947. He is the oldest referee to have refereed at a World Cup. He was for many years an electrical training officer with British Petroleum. Like Fleming he retired in 2001 and like Fleming was made MBE.

In 1999 Wales were hosts and they played the opening match at Millennium Stadium, as in 2003 and 2007 Argentina also played in the opening match. Wales won 23-18. It was not a great match as Wales scored two tries to nil and Gonzalo Quesada kicked six penalties. O’Brien became the first referee to issue a yellow card at a World Cup match when he flashed

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