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Deal's Matt Carley selected as assistant referee for opening Rugby World Cup game between Japan and Russia

By Kevin Redsull

Matt Carley will have an important touchline view when the Rugby World Cup gets under way in Japan on Friday.

The RFU professional referee, who took charge of his first Six Nations match earlier this year, has been selected as one of the two assistant referees for the opening game of the tournament between the host nation and Russia, which will be played in front of 70,000 spectators in the Tokyo Stadium.

With a spectacular opening ceremony sure to take place beforehand, it promises to be a never to be forgotten experience for the Deal 34-year-old who flew out to Japan last week to join up with the 12 referees, six other assistant referees and four TMOs (Television Match Officials) who will take charge of the 48 matches during the six-week rugby extravaganza.

Deal's Matt Carley, second from left, with fellow Rugby World Cup officials in Japan
Deal's Matt Carley, second from left, with fellow Rugby World Cup officials in Japan

Carley, who lives in Foreland Square with wife Hayley and their two children, will be an assistant referee at six of the group stage matches followed by acting as the reserve referee for one of the quarter-finals and said: “It’s a very exciting prospect and something you dream about when you first start out (as a rugby referee) but never really think you will ever be part of.”

For Carley that journey began in much more humbler surroundings when, at the age of 16, he refereed his first-ever match between Aylesford 3rds and Maidstone 4ths after his interest in rugby had been fostered from a young age by his father Malcolm, who played for Dover and Betteshanger, and also by his late grandfather John, a former president of the Kent RFU.

It was John who first encouraged Carley to try his hand at refereeing and so, in his mid-teens, Carley was refereeing on Saturdays and playing junior rugby for Dover and then Canterbury on Sundays.

Despite that busy schedule he still did well enough at Dover Grammar School to earn a place at the University of Gloucester studying sports science, and where he also became the first person to be offered an RFU refereeing scholarship at the college, which ran alongside his degree course.

After graduating Carley returned home to Deal and joined the RFU’s South East Group of referees for the 2008-09 season.

He then gradually worked his way up through the leagues before taking charge of his first Premiership game in 2013.

His first international appointment as a match referee, featuring Portugal against Spain, followed two years later and now he is about to be involved in his first World Cup.

He admits to being “a bit disappointed” that he wasn’t selected as one of the 12 referees for the tournament but added: “Four years ago my target was to be at the 2019 World Cup and I’ve achieved that, and now the next target is be selected as one of the referees for the 2023 World Cup in France.”

Around half of the referees who have been selected for Japan are over 40 and so Carley can certainly hope to be out in the middle in the next two tournaments, but his immediate focus is on providing as much support as possible for Nigel Owens, the vastly-experienced Welsh referee who will be in charge of Friday’s opening game.

He explained: “It’s really important that the match officials, who come from all round the world, work together as a team and that’s why we were brought together 10 days before the tournament so we can all get to know each other and discuss issues such as the new guidelines on high tackles.”

Carley already has match experience in Japan, having taken charge of the Japan v New Zealand international in Tokyo last October, and he was also an assistant referee when the All Blacks thrashed Australia 36-0 in Auckland last month.

He said: “Although New Zealand arethe favourites, I think England have got a really good chance as long as they can cope with the heat and humidity that you get in Japan at this time of year. But whoever ends up winning it should be a fantastic tournament.”

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