While there can be no denying that Wales deserved their win at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday, Wayne Barnes will not be on the Christmas card lists of many Irish fans.
Barnes was not responsible for crucial lost lineouts, the lack of a plan b, the failure to identify space, the unforced errors or the uncharacteristically poor performances of some key players; what Barnes is responsible for is applying the rules consistently and to both teams.
Such was the regularity of penalties during that first half that one could be forgiven for thinking he had swallowed his whistle.
When asked about Barnes’ performance, Joe Schmidt commented,
“there was some very, very stringent refereeing of the tackle area.”
But probably the most candid expression of Schmidt’s dismay was expressed when speaking to RTÉ directly after the game.
“We got slow ruck ball in that second half. The way it was in the first half, if you were anywhere near the ball you were very quickly penalised. We just didn’t get that consistency in the second half.”
While not referring to Barnes in the comment, one doubts that Schmidt was criticising his team’s work-rate at the breakdown.
Captain Paul O’Connell was also struggling to get to grips with Barnes’ interpretation of the breakdown in the first half and the centurion’s frustrations continued into the second half.
Ireland conceded 11 penalties, five of which were in kickable areas for the superb Leigh Halfpenny.
If the breakdown penalties were inconsistent and confusing, then the scrum penalties were infuriating.
Twice Ireland were penalised for wheeling the scrum, the first incident resulted in three points for Wales and the last one saw Ireland’s final chance evaporate.
The last few minute of the game would have had Irish fans up and down the country in fits of disbelief as Barnes saved his worst for last. Down by seven Ireland went in search of a draw that would have kept them in pole position to win the championship.
As the maul rumbled towards the try line, it was collapsed by the Welch defenders. The scrum and especially the maul were two areas that Ireland held an advantage over Wales.
It is therefore very hard to countenance the Irish pack would collapse their own maul, which ten minutes earlier had earned them a penalty try.
The exact same sequence of events that ten minuets earlier saw the Englishman trot under the posts for a penalty try now resulted in a scrum for Wales. A visibly frustrated Paul O’Connell was incredulous with the decision.
Ireland had one last chance to attack a Welsh scrum that had struggled all day long. But Barnes was not done yet, for the second time in the game he penalised Ireland for wheeling the scrum and with that went any reaming hopes of snatching a draw.
Raffaele Rocca, Pundit Arena
Featured image By Nick Richards (Flickr: millenium stadium inside) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons