In Defence of Wayne Barnes
The public popularity of a referee rarely correlates with the referee’s ability. One-off mistakes (perceived or otherwise) in important games can lead to years of excellent work being forgotten by critics, many of whom have never taken charge of a game themselves.
Wayne Barnes left a career as a criminal law barrister in 2005 to become a professional referee. He has graduated through the ranks at a rapid rate and at 32 years of age has already taken charge at IRB age group world cups, club and provincial games in Europe, the Lions Tour 2009 in South Africa, 2010 Heineken Cup Final, Tri Nations games including the 2011 decider in Brisbane and is now officiating at his second RWC.
He is authoritative, consistent, precise and unflustered in high pressure situations. Amongst those who properly understand the game and the role of a referee Barnes is widely viewed as the best young official to emerge in the international game in the last 5 years. There is every reason to believe that he will perform on the world stage for many years to come and in time is likely to be acknowledged as the best referee of his generation.
The performance of the so-called minnows in the opening round of RWC matches has been a source of great delight to most rugby fans. Japan, Romania, Tonga and USA all posed problems for their A list oppositions. Italy and Argentina no longer warrant inclusion in a list of minnows, which is one of the better developments in world rugby in recent years. Canada, Georgia and Samoa played their first games today, with impressive results (especially from Canada with the first big upset of the tournament), and Russia finally gets off the mark on Wednesday.
However, life is going to get more difficult for some of the lower ranked sides as this tournament continues. Georgia, USA and Namibia have only 4 days to recover between their second & third and fourth & fifth games. Romania, Canada and Scotland also have a four day turnaround during the pool stages. Scotland has 11 days between playing Georgia and their key game against Argentina – hardly ideal.
The leading sides have between 6 and 8 days recovery between each of their four pool games. In all likelihood this will ensure that those teams that make the final of the competition will have had a very manageable schedule, effectively playing games once a week consistent with normal test match routines.
The commercial reality of playing big games at weekends is clearly the driving force in this match scheduling. It would appear that the lower ranked sides are in many cases being given minimal time to recover and prepare to take on the best players in the world. Is this fair?
Photo: Jean-Francois Fournier, Monaco