It was an old football joke that I remembered when I was thinking about writing this column, after a weekend in which yet again referees played a huge part in the events of international matches.

‘What do you call a Scot appearing in a World Cup Final? The referee.’ 

You could not tell the same joke about rugby union, for the simple fact that at this World Cup in France, now just over a fortnight away, there will be no Scottish referees, not even an assistant ref or a television match official/foul play review official (TMO/FPRO). Every other tier-one nation except Argentina has at least one person on the panel of officials as named by World Rugby for this year’s tournament. 

Joy Neville of Ireland is the only woman on the panel, designated as a TMO/FPRO and she thoroughly deserves to be on the panel. But so too does our best current referee, Hollie Davidson, who has been a full-time professional referee for six years and was in charge of a Pro14 match for the first time in March 2021 when she turned in a very praiseworthy performance in the match between Munster and Benetton. I have heard nothing but plaudits for her throughout her career and I thought she was excellent when she was in charge of the England v New Zealand women’s World Cup Final.

I believe World Rugby has made a mistake in not selecting Hollie for at least the TMO/FPRO team of seven officials. It would have sent a strong message to all aspiring women referees that if you stick in and work diligently as Hollie has done then you will get the rewards you deserve.

How did we get to the stage where Scotland has not got a single person on the Word Cup Finals panel of 26 from eight different countries, with a tier two nation having one of the designated referees, namely Nika Amushukeli of Georgia. 

You have to go back to the 2007 World Cup when Malcolm Changleng was a touch judge to find a Scot on the Finals panel, and it was for all of 19 years from 2002 to 2021 and the arrival of Mike Adamson that Scotland did not provide a referee for a Six Nations match.

In Jim Fleming, we had one of the very best referees ever, but now we are struggling to find people with sufficient talent to officiate. My question to the SRU is simple – how and when are we going to find the new Jim Fleming?

Having watched all the World Cup warm-up matches I know I am not alone in thinking that quite a few of the referees were giving the impression of nervousness, the very last thing they should be displaying. But then no wonder when your every decision is now scrutinised to the nth degree, and that’s if you survive the TMO/FPRO process. As of yesterday, the ‘bunker review’ for foul play is now in place for the World Cup Finals but given the Owen Farrell case – I am writing this before the World Rugby appeal outcome is known – can a referee be confident that his card decisions will be upheld?

We now know that there will be a very good Scottish team in France, and my hope for Saturday’s final warm-up match against George at Scottish Gas Murrayfield is this – that no player on either side gets injured and has to miss the World Cup. Nor should any player be so indisciplined as to gain a red card as that will probably end their involvement in the World Cup.

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It will be a tough match against a big strong side, most of whom are based in France, and the Lelos will have a point to prove after recent wins over Romania have shown that they are the best in Europe outside the Six Nations and indeed in the World Rugby Rankings they are in 11th place, two ahead of Italy. 

For numerous reasons, this is a must-win match for Scotland. Gregor Townsend’s men need to build on their performances against Italy and France and keep the momentum going before that first match in France against South Africa on September 10. I hope Townsend picks his best match day 23 on Saturday but I would not be surprised if he gives some of the fringe players a run out.

Losing to Georgia for the first time in the history of the fixture would not be a disaster, but it would certainly choke the progress that the Scots have been making. It has to be a victory, and hopefully a comfortable one without injuries or cards, so that seeds of doubt are not planted in Scottish minds.

The man in the middle will be Mathieu Raynal of France who will be hoping not to referee the World Cup Final in Paris because he will be wanting his homeland to be playing in it.