Irish website interview with Wayne Barnes

Nice interview with Wayne Barnes of the RFU who spoke to Ireland’s website during the 6 nations a few weeks ago:


By Declan Whooley, 13/03/2013 1:09 pm

Wayne Barnes is one of the most well-known rugby officials in the game and on his recent visit to Dublin, JOE caught up with him for a chinwag.

When we got wind that the match officials for Saturday’s clash with France, Steve Walsh, Wayne Barnes and Greg Garner, were holding a referee’s workshop while they were in town courtesy of Emirates, JOE decided to head along. 

English referee Wayne Barnes was touch judge on Saturday and as well as discussing his career and all things rugby, we managed to learn more about streakers, Twitter, the sharp tongue of Declan Kidney and some fabricated stories stories on his Wikipedia page.

JOE: Hi Wayne. We read somewhere that you took up refereeing when you were 15. Why did you decide to stop playing?

Wayne Barnes: I started playing rugby in Gloucestershire when I was eight, but I got injured when I was 15. It started out helping out in school matches, but a friend of mine, whose Dad was a referee, asked me to come along to ref the third teams while he managed the first teams, and a few pints after the game was a big attraction!

Then at University I would play on Wednesday and referee on Saturday which helped me earn a bit of money to keep me going in college. Then I made it to the National Panel of Referees in England, which were the top 50 referees in the country.

JOE: At 21 you were the youngest-ever referee to make it into that panel. Did you feel that brought extra pressure?

WB: It wasn’t something I was conscious of at the time. What I think is important is that you get a lot of games when you are younger, as you learn when you make mistakes. By the time I was 21, I had probably done 500 games as a referee, so I had a lot of rugby under my belt. It would have been different if I was 21 without a lot of games under my belt.

It is similar to when Jonny Wilkinson won the World Cup in 2003 with England. He was just 24 and young at the time, but had a lot of rugby played by the time the World Cup came around.

Taking charge of the Scotland/Ireland clash at Murrayfield

JOE: Your background is in law. Is this what you will return to when you finish refereeing?

WB: I am still a practicing barrister and I still work a couple of days a week. My firm actually specialises in bribery and corruption, which some might feel is quite apt! My first call is refereeing, but my company are very supportive. It is a great balance to have and it is something I will go back to full-time when my refereeing days come to a finish.

JOE: What has been your most memorable game?

WB: That would have to be the midweek game of the 2009 Lions Tour to South Africa against the Free State Cheetahs in Bloemfontein (the Lions won 26-24 with tries from Stephen Ferris and Keith Earls). It was the first time that referees from the Home Nations were taking charge of the midweek games.

Myself, Alain Rolland and Nigel Owens took charge of three games and as a rugby fan and a Lions fan from a young age, being part of the Lions Tour was something that will stick with me forever.

After the game I went from having a quiet drink in a bar to being surrounded by what seemed like thousands of Lions fans, it was brilliant.

Refereeing highlight during the 2009 Lions Tour


JOE: Do you hope to be involved this year?

WB: The IRB haven’t decided if Home Nations referees will be involved in the midweek Tests yet, but it would be great to be part of another Tour.

JOE: Do you have a favourite rugby ground?

WB: If I had to choose one, it would have to be the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. The atmosphere generated there is incredible and hard to beat. I refereed Ireland’s Grand Slam game there in 2009, and it was pretty noisy that day too.

JOE: In the Heineken Cup game between Munster and Racing Metro at Thomond Park this season, you took a heavy knock from a ball to the face. Were you tempted to give Ian Keatley a yellow card?

WB: No, simply because I didn’t have a clue who had done it! It bloody hurt as it caught me an absolute treat. Though I think it was the first time I have ever been applauded at Thomond Park.

JOE: Did you get any sympathy from the players or match officials?

WB: My touch judge came onto the pitch and just started laughing. It was funny, when I refereed the Ireland-Scotland game in this year’s Six Nations I walked into the changing rooms and I saw Donnacha Ryan. He just started laughing and asked “how’s the head?”

Ian Keatley apologising to a groggy Barnes


JOE: Was that the most unusual moment you have had on the pitch?

WB: It actually wasn’t. The most surreal moment was when I was refereeing one of my first games in the Premiership, a game between Bath and Rotherham. A mass brawl had just kicked off with everyone laying 10 bells into each other, and it was stopped by a perfectly timed streaker.

JOE: Do you have to do your homework on the teams you are officiating?

WB: We call it visualisation. During the week I will go through what a tight-head for example looks like when he is scrummaging correctly, and what he looks like when he is struggling. During the game I will use these as references to what I am seeing on the pitch.

JOE: Ah yes, the scrum. Leads us nicely into the next question. Just how difficult is this to police?

WB: The scrum is one of the most technically difficult areas to referee. I work with a specialist front-row, Phil Kiefer, who was part of the England backroom team when they won the World Cup. We will look at what a good picture of a prop is, and what he looks like when he is in difficulty. The decision is not guess work, it is making an accurate decision on the information available to us.

JOE: What kind of relationship do you have with the various coaches?

WB: A very healthy one. We meet with coaches the week of a game to remind them of what we are looking for, and answer any queries they may have and meet them also after the game at the after-dinner.

Just last week I met with the FA in England to discuss how football referees might improve their relationships with managers, something that is the envy of the football authorities.

JOE: Speaking of managers, how do you get on with Declan Kidney?

WB: The same as all other managers, though I did have a humorous incident with him last season when the Six Nations game was called off in Paris because of the frozen pitch. I was on the pitch as assistant referee and asked Philippe Saint-Andre would they back the decision to postpone the game.

Saint-Andre immediately said yes, while Declan smiled at me and said “sure you screwed us in Wales last week, you might as well do it again tonight”. All in jest of course.

Sharing a joke in Paris

JOE: Some referees, in particular Nigel Owens, are heavily involved on Twitter. What’s your take on social media for a referee?

WB: I’m a technophobe. My fiancée works in marketing and is heavily involved in Twitter and Facebook, but for me, I just don’t have enough time. I prefer to build my relationships face-to-face.

If there is a Wayne Barnes on Twitter, it won’t be me.

JOE: Are you a big sports fan?

WB: I am. I love cricket and I also go to as many football games as I can, both to observe officials, but also for my own enjoyment.

I am a Man. Utd fan, but that was mainly down to the fact my brother was a Liverpool fan when we were younger, and that was always good for a fight!

JOE: Do you have a Fantasy League team?

WB: I don’t, but I think my other half might.

JOE: Finally, is there anything about Wayne Barnes that we might not know about?

WB: Well according to my Wikipedia page a while back, I was reported to have been killed somewhere in action. Thankfully, things have never turned that bad on the rugby pitch!

Also, I am getting married this summer, and the date is the same as the third Lions Test against Australia. While I couldn’t be involved for the Tests, there is a possibility of the midweek games, though the breakfast of my wedding day will be spent watching the game.

JOE: The perfect wedding morning! Thanks for your time Wayne.

WB: Not at all.