RWC 2023: Who is Jaco Peyper? All you need to know about the ref

Union: South African Rugby Union
Date of birth: 13 May, 1980
Test debut: 23 July, 2011 – Kenya 21-26 Zimbabwe
Tests as referee: 63 (at 28 August, 2023)
RWC Games as Referee: 7

As France and New Zealand prepare to open the 2023 Rugby World Cup, South Africans will have to wait a while before they get to see the defending champions in action. But there’s a Saffa involved straight from the get go with South Africa’s Jaco Peyper holding the whistle.

But who is Jaco Peyper? Why did he become a ref and what gets him ticking? Well, we’re glad you asked.

Jaco Peyper’s stats for France vs New Zealand at the 2023 RWC

  • This will be the second time Jaco Peyper has refereed the opening match at a Rugby World Cup
    tournament after carrying the whistle in 2015 for England versus Fiji at Twickenham.
  • This will be the first time he has refereed New Zealand at a Rugby World Cup tournament,
    after overseeing 17 tests involving the All Blacks between 2012 and 2023.
  • This will be the third time Jaco Peyper has refereed France at a Rugby World Cup, after
    overseeing their 2015 pool victory against Romania at Olympic Stadium in London, and their
    2019 quarter-final loss against Wales in Oita.
  • In his 64th test as a referee, he is the second most experienced at Rugby World Cup 2023
    behind Wayne Barnes (106 tests).

Jaco Peyper holds the record of matches refereed in Super Rugby, having passed the 100 mark in 2019, and he is the third South African after Jonathan Kaplan and Craig Joubert to handle 50 tests.

Peyper went to school at Grey College, he has degrees in Accounting and Law from the University of the Free State, and he is a partner in the family law firm in his home city of Bloemfontein.

A serious knee injury while he was at university prompted Peyper to start coaching rugby, and the refereeing element of the course enabled him to handle a primary school match at short notice. From this start in 2001, Peyper – whose surname has German roots and rhymes approximately with “paper” – progressed to his Super Rugby debut in 2009, and the final of the World Rugby U20 Championship in 2011.

Peyper has refereed three finals of Super Rugby (2015, 2017 and 2019) and the final of the Currie Cup five times in eight seasons, including three in a row from 2016-18. He was in the middle for four pool matches at Rugby World Cup in 2015, and four years later in Japan he handled the quarter-final between Wales and France – his 50th test – and was an assistant referee for the bronze final.

He also has the distinction of being in the middle for matches on three successive British and Irish Lions tours: the meeting with the NSW Waratahs in 2013, the Maori All Blacks and first test in New Zealand in 2017, and matches involving the Sharks and South Africa A in 2021.

As a teenager, Peyper watched avidly as South Africa hosted Rugby World Cup 1995, and the playing of the song ‘World in Union’ brought back vivid memories when he refereed the opening match of the 2015 edition at Twickenham Stadium.

In February 2023, Peyper was elected to the inaugural management committee of the International Rugby Match Officials body.

Peyper has been named as a referee for Rugby World Cup 2023 in France, his third edition of the showpiece tournament.

Tournaments refereed

Rugby World Cup: 2015, 2019
Six Nations: 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2022, 2023
The Rugby Championship: 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 2018, 2021, 2023
World Rugby U20 Championship: 2010, 2011
HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series: 2007-08, 2008-09
RWC Sevens: 2009

Peyper became a referee due to playing injuries as a student, which led him to find alternative ways to stay involved in the game he loves, valuing the unique perspective and friendships it brings.

He considers the best thing about being a referee to be the combination of having the best seat in the house, the opportunity for personal growth under pressure, and the lifelong friendships formed with people from diverse cultures around the world.

While he acknowledges the numerous influences on his career, including his family, mentors, and SA Rugby’s support, he refrains from singling out one as the biggest influence.

The best advice he’s received is to “let the main thing stay the main thing,” emphasizing the importance of staying focused on what truly matters amidst distractions in professional sport.

Among his many cherished memories, the highlights include officiating the All Blacks vs. British and Irish Lions test in 2017 and a notable Wales vs. England Six Nations game in 2019.

And his favourite law in rugby? Well, he once humorously mentioned it’s the one that says “the referee is always right”. But on a serious note he appreciates the advantage law and how it enhances the game’s continuity and spectacle.

Q & A info via World Rugby.