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RFU bin half-time Barnes salute due to recent Springboks fallout

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)

The recent Springboks’ criticism of record-breaking referee Wayne Barnes had an unfortunate sequel at Twickenham on Saturday. Barnes’ milestone in becoming a Test centurion referee was due to be acknowledged at half-time during the England versus South Africa match.

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However, this interval salute to his achievement was binned due to fears it would be greeted with boos from Springboks supporters attending the game. RFU president Nigel Gillingham had reported on page seven of the official match programme that Barnes’ milestone would be celebrated at the break in the final match of the 2022 Autumn Nations Series.

“We will be marking at half-time the wonderful achievement of Wayne Barnes, who on November 5 refereed his 100th Test international when he officiated at the Wales vs New Zealand Test, only the second referee to reach this remarkable milestone,” wrote the RFU official.

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However, this idea of an on-pitch salute was called off before kickoff, TV commentator Nick Mullins tweeting: “Plans to mark Wayne Barnes’ record-breaking career as a referee at half-time have been shelved. With his family and children here, there are worries about how some in the crowd might react. This is why and where it must end.”

Barnes became the most-capped Test referee ever when he took charge of the November 12 France versus Springboks game in Marseille, but his performance drew the ire of South African fans with even death threats allegedly featuring in the torrent of abuse.

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The situation surrounding South Africa’s narrow loss to the French had been inflamed by Rassie Erasmus, the Springboks’ director of rugby, posting a series of sarcastic tweets on social media. Erasmus claimed that his comments weren’t criticisms of Barnes, but World Rugby thought otherwise and they banned the DoR for two matches – last weekend’s South African game in Genoa and this Saturday’s year-ending contest with England in London.

The suspension resulted in a meeting on Thursday between Erasmus, World Rugby CEO Alan Gilpin and the global rugby body’s director of rugby, Phil Davies.

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Flankly 3 hours ago
The AI advantage: How the next two Rugby World Cups will be won

If rugby wants to remain interesting in the AI era then it will need to work on changing the rules. AI will reduce the tactical advantage of smart game plans, will neutralize primary attacking weapons, and will move rugby from a being a game of inches to a game of millimetres. It will be about sheer athleticism and technique,about avoiding mistakes, and about referees. Many fans will find that boring. The answer is to add creative degrees of freedom to the game. The 50-22 is an example. But we can have fun inventing others, like the right to add more players for X minutes per game, or the equivalent of the 2-point conversion in American football, the ability to call a 12-player scrum, etc. Not saying these are great ideas, but making the point that the more of these alternatives you allow, the less AI will be able to lock down high-probability strategies. This is not because AI does not have the compute power, but because it has more choices and has less data, or less-specific data. That will take time and debate, but big, positive and immediate impact could be in the area of ref/TMO assistance. The technology is easily good enough today to detect forward passes, not-straight lineouts, offside at breakdown/scrum/lineout, obstruction, early/late tackles, and a lot of other things. WR should be ultra aggressive in doing this, as it will really help in an area in which the game is really struggling. In the long run there needs to be substantial creativity applied to the rules. Without that AI (along with all of the pro innovations) will turn rugby into a bash fest.

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