Barnes Blunders Cost Quins Two Weeks Running

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With reffing credentials that include the World Cup, the Six Nations, the Championship and the Pacific Nations Cup, on paper, Wayne Barnes earns his feature as a regular face in the Aviva Premiership. He’s held the whistle six times in the Premiership Final, has officiated the final of the Heineken Cup, and is arguably the stand out English referee of this day and age.

But, as any referee will understand, Barnes is not without his fair share of criticism. Controversial decisions in tense situations with high stakes outcomes will always be torn apart and scrutinised by both sides, and someone is likely to be left displeased. His most damning: being dubbed “the most inexperienced referee on the roster” by Richie McCaw in his book The Open Side, having failed to spot a forwards pass in the build up to France’s winning try in New Zealand’s 20-18 loss in the 2007 World Cup quarter final. And the All Blacks captain was not alone in his criticism — Sir Graham Henry equally attacked Barnesy’s bias during the game in his writing, Final World. Alongside the forwards pass and a contentious sin-binning of Luke McAlister, Barnes’ failure to award the All Blacks a penalty for the entire final 60 minutes of the same game, despite their incessant pressure, was the target of a hate campaign in New Zealand, which went as far as irate fans issuing the English referee death threats.

But, even within his own shores, Barnes is the subject of much debate. Northampton Fans still rue Barnes’ 2013 Aviva Premiership final decision to send Dylan Hartley off the pitch for swearing just before half time. His red card resulted in a 37-17 defeat to Leicester, and an 11 week ban for club captain Hartley which saw him miss the Summer’s British and Irish Lions tour to Australia. And down at the Stoop, Barnes is not a welcome name on the official’s list. So, when he was drawn to referee both the Big Game 6, at Twickenham, and the following fixture away at Sixways, unsurprisingly, many Harlequins’ fans were anxious. And, he did not disappoint.

On the home stage of English rugby in front of 70,000 fans, Barnes was all too happy to award marginal decisions to the Cherry and Whites. They seemed to play more to Barnesy’s liking at the breakdown, with Australian lock James Horwill penalised multiple times in comparison to his Gloucester counterparts. James Hook’s first half try was also shrouded in controversy as it came against the run of play, from Kvesic winning the ball at the breakdown, though seemingly from an offside position. Luke Wallace’s similar tactic in the second half was, however, penalised. Questions were also raised as the Twelvetrees pass to release Hook for the second Gloucester try looked suspiciously forwards, whilst Sharples also ran a blocking line to prevent Evans from reaching the eventual tryscorer.

On the other hand, Quins were pulled up twice for forward passes which some refs may have deemed flat. The first, a pass from Evans to Brown shortly after half time with plenty of space and talented Ross Chisholm outside him, and the second, late on when Quins were chasing the game and on the bridge of a Sinckler break. And, many would argue that they were unlucky not to receive a penalty try in the dying stages of the game, when hooker Richard Hibbard collapsed a driving maul under the posts. Although Barnes went straight to his pocket to send the Welshman to the sin bin, a penalty try was seemingly never even questioned. A seven pointer would have put Quins as favourites to edge out their opposition and claim the five points; a decision that seems particularly poignant after Greg Garner awarded three penalty tries to Saracens during their clash with Leicester this weekend.

It’s not as if Barnes is adverse to giving penalty tries, either. This weekend’s fixture at Sixways saw Barnes award Worcester with the five points when Quins similarly took down the opposing scrum. And, for the second half especially, the decisions kept going against Quins, whilst there was no consistency in his reffing. With not a single yellow card shown in Quins’ season so far, Barnes’ put two in the bin in the space of half an hour: The first, when centre George Lowe was sin-binned for offside, and the second, a questionable sin-bin for new centre Jamie Roberts, which was followed by two Worcester tries and a complete change of momentum.

In fact, all three Worcester tries had a degree of contention. During the maul in the lead up to the first, tryscoring flanker Marco Mama releases his bind, transfers the ball to his other hand and then reattaches using only a hand. Although Barnes called this out at the time, and spoke to the player afterwards about correct binding technique, the try was still awarded. Ward was not the only one to question Barnes’ decision when he was penalised at the lineout maul, and the reset eventually led to Worcester’s second try, although this may well have been a decision enforced by the linesman, and not Barnes himself. And the Warriors’s third try, when Dowson went over in the corner, was perhaps the most controversial of the lot. Winger Cooper Vuna clearly holds back the last Quins defender Charlie Walker, preventing him from retrieving the loose ball and instead allowing the Worcester flanker to cross the line. Despite it being sent upstairs, and replaying round the stadium on the big screens, the five points were awarded to the hosts.

Post game, Conor O’Shea was noticeably aggravated: “We were on the wrong end of the ref for the last 30 minutes… How was the penalty try given? How Jamie was sin-binned is beyond our comprehension”. The players also took to Twitter to vent their frustration. After BT Sport aired Ryan’s post match interview, Number 8 Nick Easter tweeted @btsportrugby @WorcsWarriors depends if sideways scrum penalty tries and pulling players off the ball for tries would continue to b awarded”, disputing Barnes’ decisions for the two Worcester tries. England Prop Joe Marler also joined in on the action, although the tweets have since been deleted.

Worcester were left with their own grudges post match. Coach Dean Ryan was displeased with Barnes’ first half decision after Tom Heathcote was challenged by Charlie Matthews. Although the fly half was sidelined as a result, the decision went upstairs and it was ruled that there was no foul play involved. In the post match press conference, Ryan too lashed out at the ref for an ‘unfair’ decision: “It was a second-row forward challenging for a charge-down with his arms down by his side… He knocked the guy out”.

After two weeks of Barnes’ Blunders, Quins will be all too happy to see a different name on the programme as they take on table-toppers Saracens at the Stoop this weekend. Worcester will equally hope for a fairer game when they face Wasps at the Ricoh in an attempt to secure their third win of the season and keep off the bottom of the table.

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