December 8, 2023

Wayne Barnes to referee Rugby World Cup final and what that means for the All Blacks

Referee Wayne Barnes gestures during the Rugby World Cup France 2023 match between New Zealand and Uruguay. Photo / Getty

England’s loss is Wayne Barnes’ gain.

The most experienced referee in test history will control the Rugby World Cup final between the All Blacks and South Africa on Sunday in Paris.

Barnes has refereed 110 tests since 2006, and is expected to hang up his whistle after his fifth World Cup, one more than anyone else.

The appointment of the Englishman was inevitable after England was knocked out in the semifinals by the Springboks.

“Wayne’s ability to read and understand the game is second to none,” referees manager Joël Jutge said today.

Barnes has controlled five games at this World Cup and dished out six yellow cards, including two yellows against New Zealand as they stunned Ireland 28-24 in the quarter-finals. The All Blacks don’t always have it their way under Barnes; they have a 16-8 record.

Meanwhile, Barnes hasn’t refereed the Springboks since they lost to France 30-26 in Marseille last November.

That thrilling game with a red card for each team was overshadowed by apparent criticisms of Barnes by South Africa director of rugby Rassie Erasmus through social media videos that sparked more online abuse against Barnes and his family.

He told The Good, The Bad & The Rugby podcast, “I make the decision to be a referee, make the decision to be on social media. Polly, my wife, doesn’t make the decision to be a referee. On the Saturday night, there started to be some direct abuse at Polly. Then, the following two or three days, there was direct abuse to Polly, threats of sexual violence and threats against the kids. That takes it to a different level. When you’ve done 100 games, you think you can prepare for most things. You can’t prepare for that.”

Barnes considered quitting. Asked if Erasmus contributed to the shambles, Barnes said, “If people see people in positions who are meant to uphold the values of our game openly criticising referees then it allows others to say, ‘People in positions of power can criticize, why can’t I?’”

He received similar abuse and threats at the start of his career from All Blacks supporters in 2007 when he missed a forward pass in France’s match-winning try against New Zealand in the quarterfinals. But he was supported by New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark and World Rugby, and the outrage was condemned by referees chief Paddy O’Brien, a New Zealander.

The 44-year-old Barnes has been accused of being out of his depth for decades.

A kid player, he started refereeing at 15. He was the youngest appointed to England’s national refs panel at 21 in 2001. He made his test debut in 2006 in Fiji.

Barnes has whistled three European Cup finals and 10 English Premiership finals, including one in which he sent off Northampton captain Dylan Hartley for calling him a cheat.

Barnes is a criminal barrister who specializes in corruption and fraud. He believes the job and refereeing complement each other in having to earn the confidence of clients and players and explain things so they are understandable.

Last November, he equalled Nigel Owens’ record century of tests when Wales met New Zealand in his favorite stadium, Principality in Cardiff.

“It has changed me as a person because refereeing isn’t just a job, it’s a way of life and rugby is a passion, something that I love,” Barnes told the English Rugby Union website.

“You have to listen to all those opinions, so it has made me a better listener and I make sure the way I speak is considered. It’s allowed me to meet wonderful people, amazing players, let me have that breadth of friendship which, growing up in a working-class part of the world, I couldn’t have imagined.”

The only other Englishman to referee a Rugby World Cup decider, Ed Morrison, was also the occasion of the only previous final between the Springboks and All Blacks in 1995. The Boks won a famous contest 15-12 in extra time.

Get full coverage of the Rugby World Cup.

Would you like to receive notifications on latest updates? No Yes