12 Dec, 14:42
Prop Cian Healy is expected to miss the start of the 2014 RBS 6 Nations after undergoing surgery on his injured ankle on Wednesday.
He said that the current crop of top Irish referees, who are regularly used in European and international competition, were 'an example of the success of the IRFU referee structures put in place by the Referees department under Owen Doyle in recent years.'
"A significant number of Irish referees are young and that is very encouraging. However we are looking to recruit more referees all the time and while it is pleasing to note that numbers are on the rise, we continue to encourage young people to get involved in refereeing," McHugh said.
He feels the policy of encouraging schoolboys to take up the whistle is paying off with a crop of young referees now coming through the system.
"We are trying to encourage students to take up refereeing through the schoolboy referee scheme. This offers another alternative to playing and allows active participation in rugby.
The Corkman pointed to the success of Irish referees at the top level as proof that the current refereeing structures were working.
"Irish referees, over the past two seasons, have refereed the Women's World Cup final, the Churchill Cup final and the Dubai Sevens final.
In last year's Heineken Cup they refereed two quarter-finals, two semi-finals and the final.
At the recent World Cup, Alan Lewis and Alain Rolland did two quarter-final games and Alain also refereed the final and that's excellent for us to have that representation."
Of the six international referees working at this week's Under-18 Six Nations Festival, sponsored by The Bowen Group, the 26-year-old David Wilkinson (pictured above) is Ireland's representative.
"David is one of the four national IRFU Referee Development Officers. He is based in Ulster and he is refereeing consistently at AIB League Division One level and touch-judging Magners League and European Cup level and he also did an Under-20 international this year," McHugh explained.
"He came up through the IRFU schoolboys scheme a number of years ago. All of the referees at this event are all here to learn and develop as referees.
"With the help of Bertie Smith, John Sheehan and Eugene Ryan, who are acting as performance reviewers, hopefully the referees will gain from their expert advice and the Festival experience."
During his own career, McHugh regularly refereed at underage representative level.
"When I started out I did referee schools games and it was very beneficial. I did a game once between Wales and England and I remember Kyran Bracken was the England captain and Scott Quinnell was on the Welsh team.
"And it's interesting when you look through old programmes to see who has come through (the schools internationals). I know if you looked in a few years' time, many of these players at this tournament will be well-known names."
For more information on the 2008 Under-18 Six Nations Festival, please click here.
Interested in becoming a referee? Click here for more details.