Nic Berry will be the man in the middle for today’s opening Test between South Africa and the British & Irish Lions in Cape Town.
So what do we know about the 37-year-old Australian? This is his story.
What’s his background?
Born in Brisbane in 1984, Berry is pretty unusual for a top referee in that he played the game to a high level.
He was educated at Ipswich Grammar School in South East Queensland, where he acquired the nickname Bez, which has stuck with him throughout his rugby career.
A big fan of rugby league growing up, he was to focus on the 15-man code when he took to the field himself.
Making his name at scrum-half, he represented Australia at U21s level, going on to play Super 12 rugby for the Queensland Reds, debuting in 2005.
The following year, he was selected in the Australian Prime Ministers XV to take on Japan in Tokyo.
Then, in 2007, he left the Reds and moved to France to play for Racing Métro, spending three seasons with the Parisian club.
A move to Wasps followed in 2010 and he spent a further three years with the Premiership outfit, working under Dai Young.
Why did he hang up his boots so early?
In 2012, aged just 28, he had to retire from playing at the advice of his physician, after sustaining a series of concussions.
Speaking about it to Rugby.com.au, he said: “I often didn’t remember the knocks.
“So I would take a knock, and then we’d go back through and I’d be able to look at the footage of the game.
“And we’d look at it and there was just nothing there to warrant the symptoms that I was getting.
“Physically, I felt good. But it was just when I would take a knock, it would just take longer to recover and be more severe and things like that.
“Not many people knew about concussions. The game has changed so much.”
How did he get into refereeing?
Initially, he returned from England to Brisbane to begin a teaching career.
But after nine months of persistence from Rugby Australia referee manager Andrew Cole, Berry was persuaded to take up the whistle.
He made a rapid rise up the ranks, making his debut both in Queensland Premier Rugby and Australia’s National Rugby Championship within a year.
He joined the Super Rugby referees panel for the 2016 season and refereed his first match in that competition in the April, when he was in charge for the Stormers against the Sunwolves.
What’s his international experience?
Berry handled the 2017 U20s World Championship final in Georgia and ran the line in the Rugby Championship.
Then, in late 2017, he refereed his first Test match between Scotland and Samoa, taking charge of Ireland v Argentina, in Dublin, the following year.
In 2019, he was handed the whistle for two Six Nations matches – France v Scotland and England v Italy.
Then came his selection for that autumn’s World Cup in Japan, where he was one of the few to get four pool matches. One of those games was Ireland v Samoa, where he sent off centre Bundee Aki.
Now he is one of three referees selected for the Lions series, along with Kiwi Ben O’Keeffe and Frenchman Mathieu Raynal.
What has he had to say about his appointment?
“Growing up I loved watching the Lions tour the southern hemisphere, and with the best of the north taking on the current world champions it’s bound to have extra significance,” he told Rugby World.
“It’s a great opportunity and I’m humbled to have been selected to referee one of the Test matches.”
He added: “I’ve made some great friends both from my playing days and now as a referee.
“So no matter where I land there’s always someone to catch up with. It’s one of the greatest aspects of our game.”
How is he viewed by other referees?
This is what World Cup final referee Nigel Owens had to say about Berry.
“He’s a lovely guy and a hugely talented referee,” said the Welshman.
“I ran the touch for him in his first Six Nations game, which was France against Scotland out in Paris, which is a big match to do.
“I was hugely impressed with him. He’s got a lovely way about him. He’s very quiet on and off the field. He just gets on with his job.
“He’s a players’ referee and, probably from his background playing Super Rugby in Australia, he likes to let the players get on with the game and let it flow, which is great to see.
“This will be the biggest test of his career so far this weekend, his biggest challenge.
“You can’t just go into it and let everything go and hope it’s going be a Super Rugby type of game.
“It won’t be a case of sitting back and letting the two teams get on with it and play.
“He will need to control things in the first 10-20 minutes when it’s going to be absolutely full on. It will be bloody brutal.
“It will be a case of him setting his standard in that period and then hopefully when the players settle into everything you can let the game breathe a little bit.
“If you start a game and just let everything go, it’s impossible to pull things back into line. It’s all about getting the balance right.
“So it’s going to be a massive challenge for him, a big test, but one he has the ability and talent to handle.”
What do the stats tell us?
Well, this year, Berry has handed out 11 yellow cards and five refs. Of the penalties he has awarded, 68 per cent have been against the defending team, mainly for going offside.