Just as star players from overseas have improved the quality of Japanese domestic rugby, Japan's League One is hoping to do the same with its refereeing standards by importing top officials from other countries.

Australian Nic Berry, a referee at the 2019 World Cup in Japan, demonstrated the kind of unerring judgment and smooth officiating Japan longs for from its native officials in the Jan. 22 League One game between Brave Lupus Tokyo and Toyota Verblitz.

"It was so good, it felt as if there wasn't a referee," said Brave Lupus forward Michael Leitch, who captained Japan in the last two World Cups.

Australian referee Nic Berry is shown in action during the Japan Rugby League One match between Tokyo Brave Lupus and Toyota Verblitz on Jan. 22, 2023, at Tokyo's Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground. (Kyodo)

While the large influx of high-profile players from overseas has resulted in a better game and an increase in the number of Japanese players on professional contracts, only three of the league's 17 Japanese referees are hired full-time.

"(The refereeing level) hasn't managed to catch up with that of the improved quality of play," Japan Rugby Football Union Referee Manager Takashi Harada admitted.

Teams complained last season over the standards for referees' decisions, while the time needed for television match officials' reviews was also an issue.

Berry is one of five overseas referees who have come to Japan this season as part of a plan to improve officiating.

"There are things you can learn by comparing how others work in the same competitive arena," Harada said, hopeful Japanese officials will learn from the visitors' examples.

The JRFU is aiming to have a Japanese referee in the World Cup for the first time since 1995, and is considering sending officials to leagues overseas for training to help accomplish that goal by gaining language skills and game experience.

Shuhei Kubo, an assistant referee at the 2019 World Cup, hopes the JRFU can make a true commitment to achieving its goals.

"I don't want this to be just a one-off thing but a program that takes place over a longer time span," he said.

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