At 44, Wayne Barnes will finally referee a World Cup final. A logical choice as the Englishman is a reference in world rugby. Which does not protect him from criticism. In the past, he had to face two violent episodes, going so far as to receive death threats from New Zealand and South African supporters.
The first outburst dates back to… 2007. Having become the youngest international referee in 2005, at just 25 years old, Wayne Barnes was appointed to referee the quarter-final of the 2007 World Cup between France and New Zealand, in Cardiff. . Triumph of the Blues who qualify 20 to 18. But the All Blacks and their supporters criticize him for having granted the winning try to Yannick Jauzion on a penultimate forward pass from Frédéric Michalak and for having sanctioned Luke McAlister with a yellow card.
The following days, his Wikipedia page announced his death and the Englishman received numerous physical threats. Pushing the IRB (former name of World Rugby) to allocate bodyguards for his protection. In his biography published in 2012, former All Blacks coach Graham Henry went so far as to hypothesize a conspiracy against his team. As a direct consequence, Wayne Barnes will no longer referee New Zealand until… 2015!
For the South Africans, the subject of recriminations is more recent since it concerns the test match won by the Blues in Marseille in November 2022 (30-26). At the end of this physical and tough meeting, marked by the expulsions of the Springbok Pieter-Steph du Toit and then of the captain of the XV of France Antoine Dupont, Rassie Erasmus, the director of South African rugby had pinpointed all the errors committed, according to him, by Wayne Barnes.
Parts of video published on social networks which had a deplorable impact. Low-level Internet users had cyberharassed Wayne Barnes and those close to him, once again multiplying death threats. His partner had been threatened with sexual assault. If World Rugby had suspended Rassie Erasmus (two matches), this outburst of hatred had deeply, and legitimately, shocked Wayne Barnes.
In the famous English podcast “The Good, The Bad and The Rugby”, he confided that he had seriously considered hanging up. “It’s not even a red line that has been crossed, it’s gone so far beyond that we can’t even see the line anymore. I make sacrifices but it’s a family sacrifice. I told myself I had another job. I am a partner in a law firm wanting me to come back and work full time…”
During this World Cup, Mr. Barnes has already managed two All Blacks matches: against Uruguay in the 1st round (73-0) and the quarter-final against Ireland (28-24). Without the slightest controversy. On the other hand, he will return to the Springboks for the first time since the deplorable attacks of November 2022.