Champions Cup final referee Matthew Carley clashed with Leinster star and slammed by TV presenter

Referee Matthew Carley
-Credit: (Image: David Winter/REX/Shutterstock)

Englishman Matthew Carley is the man in charge of today's European Champions Cup final between Leinster and Toulouse.

The game is being played at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, with two genuine rugby giants facing off for the biggest title in the club game.

Will the Irish juggernauts finally win the crown after losing the last two finals to La Rochelle? The man in the middle will no doubt have a crucial impact on proceedings.

Who is Matthew Carley?

Born in Kent in 1984, Carley began his refereeing career at just 16 years old before being offered a RFU refereeing scholarship at the University of Gloucestershire. After graduation, he was promoted to the National Panel of Referees where he started to officiate at National 1 and 2 level and Championship, while also making his debut on the World Sevens Series in Dubai.

He made history as the first referee in the world to officiate a professional game wearing 'RefCam' when he took charge of Newcastle Falcons vs London Scottish during the 2012/13 Championship season. He was later promoted to the Premiership, where he quickly became a regular official.

He first took the reins in a World Rugby appointed match in 2016, officiating the United States against Russia, and later that year he oversaw his inaugural game involving a Tier 1 nation when Scotland faced Georgia. Carley's Six Nations debut came as an assistant referee before he stepped up as the main official in 2018.

Before leading Wales' Pool C opener against Fiji last year, Carley had not refereed at a Rugby World Cup, although he was the first reserve match referee four years prior, attending as an assistant.

Carley clash with Leinster star

Carley showed one Ireland star he was not to be messed with late last year, as he effectively removed James Ryan as Leinster captain just 15 minutes into their Champions Cup clash with La Rochelle.

The lock was named co-captain for the clash alongside international team-mate Garry Ringrose, but was stripped of his duties by the official who grew fed up with his constant whingeing.

Despite Leinster holding a narrow lead after Jordan Lamour's early try, Ryan had been in Carley's ear nearly every time a penalty had been conceded and very quickly got on the referee's nerves. Rather than let it continue, the official took swift action and refused to speak to the 27-year-old, instead addressing Ringrose for the rest of the game.

"I've asked him several times, and he's not listening," he told Ringrose. "He's speaking to me at every penalty. And now he's almost asking for a captain's referral - I told him no. We'll work together now."

Leinster ultimately went on to win the game 16-9. Ryan has been left out of the Leinster starting XV today and will instead start on the bench.

Which TV presenter has called him a 'disgrace'?

Carley attracted controversy at the World Cup, particularly during his first assignment at the event, the Wales versus Fiji match, which many hailed as the most thrilling encounter of the group stages.

His handling of the Pool game drew significant scrutiny, with some fans and commentators decrying what they saw as inconsistent officiating, especially during the game's frenetic conclusion.

Claims were made that Warren Gatland's Welsh team repeatedly offended on their own line during the second half. Despite many warnings, only Corey Domachowski was shown a yellow card.

Many spectators both in the stadium and at home felt the number of yellows should have been three or four.

Fiji's Lekima Tagitagivalu was the first to be carded, much to the frustration of Pacific Islanders' coach Simo Raiwalui, who voiced his vexation post-match, disputing Carley's decision-making.

"It's pretty tough to talk when you are hot after the match," he stated, "I did think when we were down in the corner, we had multiple penalties and could have been multiple more and we didn't get a yellow card given against Wales."

He acknowledged the difficulty of refereeing, but called for consistency and said: "The referees have got a tough job, I respect what they do. As a coach, you are looking for that consistency. There were a couple of occasions where we thought we didn't get the rub of the green."

Critics further included former Scotland player Ruaridh Jackson, describing the lack of cards for Wales as a "joke" and claiming: " [They] can thank Carley for that one". Ex-Fijian flyhalf Nicky Little also expressed dissatisfaction, opining that the ref had "melted" at crucial moments.

Unexpectedly, TV presenter Nick Knowles of DIY SOS fame, slammed Carley's officiating as an "absolute disgrace", demanding that World Rugby "apologise" to Fiji.

"This is looking worse than bad officiating," Knowles wrote on Twitter. "I don't even want to say it out loud. This officiating is an absolute disgrace and World Rugby owes Fiji an apology and this officiating team need censuring in some way This is supposed to be a showcase but it's grotesque."

He added: "The officials won that game for Wales and something should be done about it. Nothing will of course but World Rugby you are absolutely making a mess of this showcase."

Carley was at the centre of another big World Cup moment when he sent off Namibia captain Johan Deysel for an illegal tackle on tournament poster boy Antoine Dupont.

Dupont was taken off for a head injury assessment and was left in tears in the dressing room before he was taken to hospital where scans confirmed that he had suffered a facial fracture that threatened to sideline him for weeks.

Carley issued a yellow card to Deysel for making head-on-head contact with the French captain, before sending the incident to be reviewed by the Foul Play Review Bunker, which later upgraded it to a red.