As is usually the case, there’s a lot of pressure on the man with the whistle as Wales welcome France to the Principality Stadium.
Even with Wales’ title hopes realistically over, the scalp of Grand Slam-chasing France is one Wayne Pivac’s men will be keen to take.
The man controlling things in Cardiff will be England’s Matthew Carley.
He is no stranger to a Wales v France clash, having taken charge of the sides’ last meeting in Cardiff back in 2020.
That year, he was thrust into the spotlight considerably more than he would have liked with the heat turned up on him pre-match.
Wales forwards coach Jonathan Humphreys and prop Wyn Jones spoke publicly about the French’s work at the scrum, predicting they’d cheat at the set-piece.
“We know they’ll hit and chase and cheat,” said Jones. “That’s something we’re fully aware of and something we’ve got to combat on the day.
“They’ll look to push early, they’ll look to mess about at scrum time.”
In the end, France came out on top that day, winning in Cardiff for the first time in 10 years.
In terms of this year’s Six Nations, this is Carley’s first and only match as referee. He’s set to be a touch judge next week for Wales’ final game with Italy, having performed the same role in the last round for Ireland’s win over the Italians.
In that game, he was called upon by rookie Six Nations referee Nika Amashukeli for confirmation that Italy should be reduced to 13 men after replacement hooker Hame Faiva was sent off, with Amashukeli and Carley being spot on in their implementation of the law in a bizarre situation.
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Carley has been refereeing at a professional level since making his debut in the English Premiership in 2013. That same year he made the step up to the European Challenge Cup. Two years later, he took charge of his first top flight European match, Munster v Benetton.
He was first appointed by World Rugby in 2016, when he took charge of United States v Russia. A highly-regarded official, Carley made his first Six Nations appearance as an assistant to John Lacey for Scotland v Wales in 2017. He took charge of his first Tier One Test match later that year, Scotland v New Zealand.
Last year, he took charge of Wales’ win over Scotland at Murrayfield – in which he sent Zander Fagerson off for a dangerous clearout.
Assisting him for Wales v France will be South African official Jaco Peyper.
Ironically, given how the heat was applied to Carley before the last meeting with France over the scrum, Wales were less than impressed with Peyper’s interpretation of that area of the game at the start of the tournament.
After Wales’ 29-7 thrashing in Dublin, Wales took umbrage with a number of scrumagging calls – with Wyn Jones and Tomas Francis getting nothing from the referee.
Seeking an explanation from World Rugby, head coach Wayne Pivac said: “If we think there are areas which didn’t go our way, there is a channel we use which is through to Joel Jutge [head of match officials] at World Rugby.
“We did that and we had a very, very rapid response. We don’t need to tinker too much with the scrum because we felt we were going very well in that area of the game, but probably didn’t get the decisions we felt we should have.
“We’ve been told to keep going, and we feel we are on the right track there. We think a couple of decisions should have gone our way early on in the game. If the response back was different, we would be looking to make some change, but we are not making change, so that probably answers that one.”
That came on the back of criticism Peyper received for only awarding Ulster’s Craig Gilroy a yellow card for a dangerous tackle on Scarlets’ Tom Rogers shortly before the start of the Six Nations.
Peyper himself, like Carley, has officiated Wales v France before.
Infamously, he was the man with the whistle for Wales’ controversial 2019 World Cup quarter-final victory which saw France’s Sebastian Vahaamahina sent off for an elbow to the face of Aaron Wainwright.
While it was the right decision, Peyper earned the ire of French rugby when he posed for pictures with Welsh fans making a mocking elbow gesture. As a result, he was not considered for either of the semi-finals or the final.
Having not officiated during 2020 due to travel restrictions, he returned to the Six Nations in 2021 to take charge of England’s clash with none other than France.
Coincidentally, he is due to officiate the same fixture in the final weekend of the Six Nations next week.
Wales v France officials
Referee: Matthew Carley (RFU)
Assistant Referee 1: Jaco Peyper (SARU)
Assistant Referee 2: Andrea Piardi (FIR)
TMO: Tom Foley (RFU)
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