Hobbs on the mat for ref comments
Security measures have been put in place to protect Wayne Barnes, the referee who has been the target of abuse from angry All Blacks supporters, while New Zealand rugby boss Jock Hobbs could be castigated for questioning the Englishman's performance.
The Times of London reported today that the security will be in place this weekend when Barnes attends the South Africa-Argentina semi-final in Paris.
While Barnes has been passed over for a semi appointment in either the middle or as a linesman after his appalling display in France's upset 20-18 win over New Zealand, he will be working in the technical area at the Stade de France on Sunday.
Kiwi Paddy O'Brien, the IRB's referee manager who has staunchly defended Barnes, told the Times: "I have spoken to Wayne and assured him of our full support in all ways. We have strategies in place if anyone attempts to take anything further."
The move follows a number of personal attacks on Barnes including his Wikipedia entry being hacked into on Monday and a mock obituary posted.
Groups of New Zealand fans have also used the popular Bebo website to attack the referee with one group called "The Wayne Barnes Haters".
Many All Blacks fans hold Barnes responsible for the All Blacks' narrow defeat after he missed an obvious forward pass during the build-up to France's match-winning try and for sending Luke McAlister to the sin-bin in the second half.
The paper also noted the call by NZRU chairman Jock Hobbs for Barnes' performance to be reviewed.
"Some of the decisions had an enormous bearing on the outcome," Hobbs has said in a radio interview. "In our view some of the decisions were very, very questionable. We would like that performance to be reviewed."
The Times suggested Hobbs could be censured for the comment.
"Such criticism by a figure in his position could rebound on him," wrote the paper. "The IRB is determined to clamp down on such outbursts, which senior officials feel strongly have no place in the game. John O'Neill, the outspoken chief executive of the Australian RFU, could also find himself in the line of fire after his "We hate the English" diatribe."
The Times said a spokesman for the IRB said that both men's comments had been noted and would almost certainly be on the agenda at board meetings planned for next week in Paris before the final, which both officials will attend in their administrative capacities.
Greg Thomas, the IRB communications manager, said that council members were bound by a code of conduct. If it was felt that this had been breached, action would be taken.
"This game has very strong traditions which need to be upheld," Thomas said. "If sanctions are seen fit, then in the first instance we would expect the national union to deal with it. If they do not and we feel we need to, we will step in."
It was too early to say what action might be taken, Thomas said.
O'Brien, who is now coming under fire in New Zealand for claiming the IRB does not have serious refereeing problems, continued to defend Barnes yesterday as the anger of All Black fans continued to burn.
"He is an outstanding young man and an outstanding referee on the world circuit. He has our complete backing," O'Brien said yesterday. "We will not defend wrong decisions and Wayne did miss a forward pass, as did his two touch judges. But his missed forward pass did not cost the All Blacks that game.
"Some of the threats and comments coming out of New Zealand make me sick. Wearing my New Zealand hat, I would be the first to say they have been the No 1 side in rugby for many years, as Brazil are in soccer. But that does not give them the divine right to win a World Cup.
"I would like to think New Zealanders would start to learn to lose well. It is very sad when criticism becomes so personal. But that seems to be the world we live in. Wayne can take this. But what worries me is the impact this will have on junior referees, who will think, 'Is it all worth it?' Whatever happens, the game needs referees."
Barnes has been instructed by the IRB not to talk to the media.