ENGLISHMAN Wayne Barnes has earned a reputation for refereeing bloopers, continuing the trend he set in the World Cup rugby tournament of 2007 when he awarded France a try from a blatant forward pass.
That try helped France to knock out tournament favourites New Zealand in the quarter-finals. Barnes does not appear to have improved much – at the ongoing tournament, which concludes on Sunday, he denied Wales a try conversion when the ball had clearly gone between the uprights. This was in a pool game with South Africa and as Wales lost the game by a point, they certainly had reason to feel cheated.
But Barnes has been rewarded for this blunder by being given the third-placed decider which is being held on Friday (October 21) between Australia and Wales. It looks like the man has a merry gang of backers somewhere in the International Rugby Board.
If one thinks that Barnes only makes occasional errors, think again. On the day of the Australia-New Zealand semi-final, I was trying to kill time in the afternoon in the run-up to the game and suddenly remembered that I had not watched the final Tri-Nations game between the All Blacks and the Wallabies. I sat down to do so.
Coincidentally, the referee happened to be Barnes. After I noticed a couple of refereeing errors, I decided to make some notes. This is some of what I noticed:
- In the eighth minute, Barnes failed to notice that Australian winger Digby Ioane had gone off his feet in a ruck and was continuing to play the ball.
- Seven minutes later Barnes asked New Zealand to position themselves for a five-metre scrum when one of their players grounded the ball in his own try-in goal area. It should have been a dropout from the 22-metre line.
- In the 13th minute, Australian lock Daniel Vickerman played the ball while sprawled on the ground in a ruck. Barnes did not blow his whistle.
- A minute later, Australian fly-half Quade Cooper took a swing at New Zealand captain Richie McCaw; again Barnes did not notice.
- In the 17th minute, Australian centre Anthony Faingaa brought off a try-saving tackle from an offside position. Barnes failed to notice.
- In the 21st minute, an Australian forward deliberately went to ground to prevent the progress of a maul. Barnes? His mind was elsewhere.
- A minute after half-time, New Zealand lock Ali Williams tripped Adam Ashley-Cooper who appealed to Barnes. The referee refused to get involved.
- Ten minutes later, Australian captain Jams Horwill grabbed hold of All Blacks centre Ma’a Nonu while both were on the ground in a ruck and would not let go. It was clearly visible – but Barnes was of a different opinion.
- In the 64th minute, three All Blacks forwards were offside when they charged down a kick but Barnes kept his whistle in his pocket.
- In the 75th minute, Isaia Toeava, who had come on as a substitute for the New Zealanders, pushed the ball back after tacklers had gone right over him. He was on the ground at the time. Barnes did not notice.
- In the 76th minute, Australian hooker Sai’a Faingaa threw into the lineout – and even a blind man would have seen that the throw was wildly off centre. Not Barnes, though.
It is ages since I covered a game of any sport so I would probably have missed a lot more. But what I have noted should provide an indication of Barnes’ abilities. Australia won this game 25-20 and took the Tri-Nations title as a result. Had someone like Craig Joubert, who has been rightly picked to referee the World Cup final between New Zealand and France on October 23, been officiating, one doubts any of these contraventions of the rules would have escaped him.
But then there is one fundamental difference between Joubert and Barnes – the former is competent, the latter is a mass of incompetence.
Rugby union is still a fringe game, even though 20 nations gather once in four years to play a World Cup. If the IRB wants to encourage more people to come to games, it is surely doing the wrong thing by continuing to use officials like Barnes for high-profile games. People may call the third-place playoff a waste of time – but given that both teams will be smarting at having not made it to the final, it often turns out to be quite entertaining. In 2003, New Zealand, miffed at having lost to Australia in the semis, hammered France 40-14. It was a good game.
Australia and Wales are both proud nations and neither will give each other any quarter in the third-place playoff either. But the game may well degenerate into a farce – remember, one Wayne Barnes is holding the whistle.