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Watch: In defence of Wayne Barnes - what he really said to Savea

Luke Kirkness, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Mon, 30 Oct 2023, 1:42pm

Watch: In defence of Wayne Barnes - what he really said to Savea

Luke Kirkness, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Mon, 30 Oct 2023, 1:42pm

Wayne Barnes is receiving death threats for how he officiated the Rugby World Cup final won 12-11 by South Africa, and there is one moment causing a lot of fuss among All Blacks fans.

All Blacks supporters are claiming that Barnes apologised to stand-in skipper Ardie Savea for getting a decision wrong, but still allowed the Springboks to kick a three-pointer.

A close analysis of video from that moment in the match clarifies the situation and what was actually said.

In the 17th minute, South African No. 8 Duane Vermeulen carries the ball into a tackle, with Tyrel Lomax making the first hit. As the big Bok goes to ground, Savea makes the second tackle and moves quickly to steal the ball. Vermeulen holds on and Barnes penalises Savea – the tackler is meant to let go of the opponent before moving in to steal the ball.

As Handre Pollard lines up to shoot the penalty, Savea queries Barnes about the call. Only one side of the conversation is captured on the referee’s microphone. Savea is thought to be drawing the referee’s attention to a replay of the incident on the big screen.

Barnes replies: “Sorry, mate, I didn’t see the replay. I thought you stayed on him. I didn’t see you come off enough.”

Barnes is clear about his reasons for giving the penalty – he believes Savea did not break away enough before grabbing the ball. Rather than the referee admitting guilt, the use of the word “sorry” seems to be Barnes politely saying he didn’t see the replay. Or it could be he was politely acknowledging to Savea that his own interpretation was different from that of the All Blacks No 8.

Sky commentator Grant Nisbett is the first to misunderstand the comment.

“Bit of a tough call in a World Cup final, to concede a mistake,” says the veteran broadcaster.

In the World Rugby laws, Section 14.5 says:

  • Tacklers must immediately release the ball and ball carrier after both players go to the ground;
  • Immediately move away from the tackled player and from the ball to get up;
  • Be on their feet before attempting to play the ball;
  • Allow the tackled player to release or play the ball;
  • Allow the tackled player to move away from the ball;
  • Sanction is a penalty for failing to do so.

Fan reactions from the Rugby World Cup final


World Cup final referee Wayne Barnes gets death threats


It comes as Barnes has been targeted with death threats during Sunday’s showcase match in Paris by angry fans, his wife has revealed.

Women’s Rugby Association co-founder Polly Barnes has hit out at supporters who verbally abused her husband while attending yesterday’s game between South Africa and New Zealand with their children at the Stade de France.

The Barnes family were all in attendance for the final in Paris to celebrate the referee’s landmark game as he took charge of a first World Cup final, but Polly revealed the occasion was overshadowed by abuse Wayne had received over social media through Instagram and which was sent to an email address used for enquiries.

Writing on social media afterwards, Polly said: “What a vile atmosphere at the Stade de France. It’s just a game, k***heads.”

On Sunday, in what appeared to be a farewell post to the tournament, Barnes also wrote: “See ya later Rugby World Cup. Won’t miss you, or the death threats.”

Barnes, the game’s most experienced referee, having taken charge of over 100 tests, was given a number of major incidents to handle in the final, with New Zealand captain Sam Cane being sent off for a high tackle, and South Africa captain Siya Kolisi also receiving a yellow card for a similar offence.

The Englishman also showed yellow cards to New Zealand’s Shannon Frizell and South Africa’s Cheslin Kolbe, and awarded a try to Beauden Barrett after a pass from All Blacks wing Mark Telea appeared to be on the borderline of being forward.

Both Wayne and Polly Barnes received abuse on social media after the referee took charge of France’s win over South Africa in Marseille last November, a test that made him the most experienced international referee of all time.

Luke Kirkness is an Online Sports Editor for the NZ Herald. He previously covered consumer affairs for the Herald and was an assistant news director in the Bay of Plenty. He won Student Journalist of the Year in 2019.

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