Wayne Barnes is set to break the record for most Premiership Rugby matches refereed when he takes charge of this Friday’s Worcester Warriors’ home clash with London Irish – his 191st Premiership rugby appointment.
Barnes, 38, has been jointly leading the all-time list with Chris White (right) on 190 for a few weeks during the international window, followed by the European rugby rounds. The full top 10 is set out below.
White set the mark between 1997 and 2011, but at Sixways on Friday, Barnes will move out on his own. Premiership Rugby’s Rugby Director Phil Winstanley offered his and the League’s thanks; “This weekend Wayne will receive many well deserved plaudits from across the game and all of these are fully deserved. In the last 15 years Wayne has arguably become the number one referee in world rugby and we’re fortunate to have Wayne plying his trade in the Aviva Premiership each week.
“He’s an extremely consistent performer and has been over many years, and he is held in high regard by players and coaches alike. While he notches up 191 Premiership Rugby fixtures on Friday night, you can see on match days that he has lost none of retained his enthusiasm over the years and thoroughly enjoys what he does and I’m sure that there are many more appearances to come yet.”
So what do we know about the 38 year old Bream-born official?
He took up refereeing aged 15, and was identified as an outstanding refereeing prospect in 2001. Aged just 21 then, he became the youngest member of the RFU’s National Panel of Referees. He went on to become a Professional Referee with the RFU in 2005.
Barnes made his Premiership debut 14 years ago at the Rec, dealing with a streaker and a man in cardiac arrest in the stands, but has gone on to become one of the most recognisable referees in the global game.
He has appeared at three Rugby World Cups and multiple Six Nations while handling dozens of other international Tests every year.
However, Aviva Premiership Rugby is the stage he calls home and to it will be no surprise to all rugby fans that he is ready for more – dismissing the suggestion he might soon stop.
“Whenever you reach a milestone people start asking when you are going to retire, that is probably why I don’t keep an eye on it,” he said.
“But I am only 38 still and I am one of the youngest international referees. If I go to Japan it will be my fourth World Cup and I will be 40 then.”
One thing that is less known about Barnes is that he is a practising barrister and works in London every Wednesday, distracting himself from rugby for just 24 hours.
Ironically, he was offered his first barrister job just 48 hours before his first match – and the two careers have been entwined ever since.
“In the game, there was a mass brawl and I thought ‘I have to show a bit of control and command’ so I blew my whistle and stood there very authoritatively,” he added.
“And they stopped fighting so I thought ‘wow this easy’ but actually the fight was stopped by a streaker running on with an elephant across his bits.
“That was my moment to take control and I was blown out of the water by a naked man and his elephant.
“And then with 20 minutes to go in the game, one of the touch judges came across and said ‘you have to stop the game’ and I thought a fight had started again.
“I could not see where it was and looked to my right to see an ambulance driving down the middle of the pitch because someone had had a heart attack in the crowd.”
The 2008 Aviva Premiership Rugby Final between Wasps and Leicester Tigers also stands out for Barnes, particularly as it was the last game played by Lawrence Dallaglio.
On the eve of his 191st game, it is the characters he remembers best – and one particular duo remain at the forefront of his mind.
“It was always amusing to referee Shaun Perry and Andy Goode when they were playing together at Worcester. They always made me looked slim which was quite nice when you run out onto the pitch,” Barnes continued.
“And then they had a running commentary with you throughout the game which was funny. It’s the characters which stand out, like Mark Regan and Richard Hibbard at the moment.
“All the players that make you smile as fans make us smile as referees. There is still a huge place for that relationship, I think that is what makes our game very special.”
That is part of the reason Barnes has stayed in the game for so long but he knows there is one person he owes the biggest thanks – his wife Polly.
He said, “I will have a glass of wine at home with Mrs Barnes, almost just to say thank you to her because she had made a personal sacrifice. She can put her feet up and I will raise a glass to her.”