Writing in the Irish Times on Wednesday, Gavin Cummiskey summed up the apprehension felt by many Irish fans ahead of their side’s clash with Wales by headlining his article following Joe Schmidt’s squad announcement with “Referee the only concern as Schmidt names expected team”.
Although Cummiskey’s headline raised some eyebrows, it’s fair to say that Ireland’s relationship with Wayne Barnes has been tetchy, to say the least. The English referee first took charge of a game involving Ireland during the 2007 World Cup, when Georgia almost caused one of rugby’s greatest upsets.
Since then Ireland have lost nine of the 13 games Barnes has officiated and left many Irish fans scratching their heads over any number of contentious decisions.
Causing particular irritation to Irish fans was his performance during the 2015 Six Nations encounter with Wales, where the barrister-cum referee’s interpretations of the tackle laws allowed Wales build a 12-0 lead, and a questionable scrum penalty enabled Warren Gatland’s side keep Ireland out during the final play of the game.
Not only did Ireland dominate the above scrum engagement driving the Welsh pack around 180 degrees, but their entire back row disengaged before Barnes blew his whistle. His calls left many Irish players visibly fuming on the pitch, and led the normally calm Joe Schmidt to bemoan “some very, very stringent refereeing of the tackle area”.
Although Barnes was the man in the middle when Ireland claimed their historic Grand Slam in Cardiff on the final day of the 2009 Championship, he found himself at the centre of another storm when the 37-year-old referee failed to send Bradley Davies off for an off the ball tip tackle on Donnacha Ryan in 2012.
When asked after the game whether or not the incident warranted a red card, Gatland replied “yes” before adding “I think we have to prepare for the worst”. To make matters worse for Irish fans, Barnes sin-binned Stephen Ferris in the final minute for taking Ian Evans over the horizontal.
Barnes then oversaw the end of Declan Kidney’s reign as Irish coach, taking charge of Ireland’s defeats against both Scotland and Italy during the 2013 Six Nations Championship. Indeed, of the eight games the English whistle blower took charge of during the Corkman’s time in the hot seat, Ireland only recorded one win.
Furthermore, between 2010 and 2013, Ireland suffered seven straight defeats in games where Barnes had taken charge.
Perhaps what’s even stranger is the fact Ireland have only won 31% of their games where Barnes was officiating, by some distance the worst record under the whistle of any front line international referee. By way of contrast, since the Gloucestershire native first took charge of Ireland back in 2007, Ireland have a win rate of 55.7%.
However, it’s been two years since the Barnes has officiated a game involving Ireland, and much has changed in that time. Nevertheless, his performance will be scrutinised in great detail by those in Ireland following the final whistle on Friday night.
Alan Drumm, Pundit Arena
On this week’s edition of The Oval Office Podcast, Lee Byrne tells us what’s gone wrong with Wales and how many dragons are likely to feature for the Lions.