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Vilified Barnes back in spotlight

Thu, 06 Jun 2013 08:35
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Wayne Barnes is set to referee an All Blacks-France match on Saturday for the first time since receiving death threats after New Zealand's World Cup exit to France in 2007.

The appointment of the Englishman to handle the opening Test in Auckland has spiced up the first encounter between the All Blacks and France since the New Zealanders narrowly exacted revenge 8-7 in the 2011 World Cup Final.

New Zealanders have still not forgiven Barnes for failing to question an apparent forward pass at the World Cup quarterfinals in Wales six years ago which led to France's match-winning try.

He also found no reason to penalise France as they desperately defended in the final 20 minutes of the match.

The All Blacks eventually lost 18-20, suffering their earliest exit from rugby's showpiece tournament after starting as clear favourites.

The public abuse, including death threats, against Barnes became so vicious that then New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark and the International Rugby Board were forced to condemn the actions of irate All Blacks fans.

The lawyer-turned-referee, who has always maintained a stoic silence on the reaction to the match, has not handled any of the five Tests between the two sides since.

But both then All Blacks coach Graham Henry and captain Richie McCaw have ensured the issue remains alive in their biographies.

Henry demanded an investigation into Barnes' performance, and in his book "Graham Henry: Final Word" he described how he "briefly contemplated match-fixing as the only logical explanation" for the standard of officiating.

McCaw blamed the officials who appointed "the most inexperienced referee on the roster" to handle a crucial knockout match and wrote that "Barnes was frozen with fear and wouldn't make any big calls".

The New Zealand media have also been quick to highlight controversial decisions involving Barnes since 2007.

The most recent was the 11-week suspension that forced New Zealand-born hooker Dylan Hartley out of the British and Irish Lions' tour of Australia for calling Barnes a "f***ing cheat" in Northampton's 37-17 loss to Leicester in the Aviva Premiership Final.

Hartley claimed his outburst was aimed at rival Leicester hooker and Lions rival Tom Youngs, but Barnes said the comment was directed at him and the judicial panel agreed.

After the All Blacks and France clash in Auckland this weekend, Ireland's Alain Rolland and Welshman Nigel Owens will control the remaining two matches in the series in Christchurch on June 15 and New Plymouth on June 22.

AFP

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