Wayne Barnes has revealed how his mistake in the 2007 Rugby World Cup quarter-final spurred him on to become one of rugby’s top referees.
In a wide-ranging interview with Radio Sport’s D’Arcy Waldegrave – which you can watch in full above – Barnes talks about his career at length, including, of course, that famous decision in the All Blacks’ quarter-final defeat to France, where a missed forward pass which led to a French try proved crucial in France’s eventual 20-18 victory.
Now one of the world’s most highly-rated referees, who was given the bronze medal match between the All Blacks and Wales at the 2019 Rugby World Cup, Barnes says the public criticism and his own drive to improve made him a superior referee.
“Everyone improves over time. I went into the 2007 World Cup probably only refereeing three or four test matches, and I’ve now refereed about 90, so you learn from those games – like New Zealand v France, and of course I’ve learned from my mistakes in that game.
“You’re 28 years old, at the start of your career – I guess it was a bit of a motivator to do a bit better. That’s how I definitely saw it, and this World Cup for me, nobody was talking about Wayne Barnes’ performance, so maybe 12 years of experience has helped do that.”
Barnes also revealed the ultimate reason for his blunder when missing the forward pass, saying that he immediately knew he had made an error when he saw it on the stadium’s screen, but the laws in 2007 did not allow the Television Match Official to overturn the decision.
“Of course it was [a forward pass] – we’ve all seen it. You know it’s a forward pass about two or three seconds later when you look up on the screen and you see it, the problem was that the TMO protocols were different then, and that’s probably part of the reason why they’ve changed it.”
Barnes, who was voted the 2019 World Rugby referee of the year, pointed to one of England’s tries being ruled out in the semifinal against the All Blacks due to obstruction as a ruling he wouldn’t have been able to make in 2007.
“The referee would have given that in 2007 because he didn’t see it clearly, and then we’d be talking about the referee. But Nigel Owens went upstairs to Marius Jonker, and they made the right decision. That’s where we’ve evolved as a sport over the last 12 years – we get the big calls right, more often than not.”
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Now, Barnes hopes that his intense attention to detail and preparation means that his name is rarely mentioned after refereeing a big match, having made plenty of changes since 2007.
“I just wanted to get better on the back of it – that was my first tournament, my first knockout game,” he explained to Waldegrave.
“I probably spent more time with coaches after that to try and learn the game better, I’ve now got a set-piece and a scrummaging coach, Phil Keith-Roach, who I review every game with. I’ve worked harder on my fitness – as a 28-year-old in 2007 I probably took it for granted that I’d always be fit, now I’ve got an extraordinarily good support team around me with strength and conditioning and physio support.
“I’ve put a board around me to make sure that when I go into big matches, nothing’s put to chance – sports psychologists, former international referees, my wife – five or six people around me helping to make sure that when I make a decision, nothing’s left to chance, and it’s more likely that nobody’s talking about me after the match.”
The 40-year-old also joked that he has a much better relationship with New Zealanders now, than he did in 2007.
“I was quite surprised that I was voted the third-most hated man in New Zealand in 2007. I’m told it was behind Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein! Whether that’s justified is a matter for you and your listeners,” he laughed.
“They’ve definitely mellowed with me and I can say that with confidence, because in 2007, there was a bar in Queenstown called Cowboys which had a bust of my head in one of the urinals – and you can imagine what people did with that. But I went back there a few years ago – and I’d been replaced by Donald Trump!
“So you must have mellowed.”
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