Oh no! Wayne Barnes returns to haunt ABs

Last updated 10:13 06/07/2008
PETER MEECHAM / Fairfax Media
EASY TARGET: English referee Wayne Barnes made plenty of mistakes in New Zealand's quarter-final loss but did he make more errors than Graham Henry during the All Blacks' failed World Cup campaign?

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Brace yourself New Zealand. The country's most hated man, Englishman Wayne Barnes, is poised to be thrust back into our lives when he comes face-to-face with the All Blacks next month.

Barnes will police the touchline during the All Blacks' Tri Nations clash with South Africa in Cape Town nine months after the whistle-blower incensed Kiwis after missing a blatant forward pass during the All Blacks' quarterfinal loss to France in the Rugby World Cup.

The sinbinning of Luke McAlister and a catalogue of other errors in Cardiff made the subsequent fallout all the more vitriolic. The All Blacks fuelled the enmity as recently as a fortnight ago when lock Ali Williams slammed Barnes' performance and the New Zealand Rugby Union, albeit through an independent tournament review, also pointed the finger at Barnes.

A reunion between the former lawyer and All Blacks was inevitable. But given the wounds from last year are still raw some are surprised it has come so soon.

Not so Barnes' boss and staunchest supporter, Southlander Paddy O'Brien, who appointed his protege to the fixture.

O'Brien went on the attack on Saturday when the wisdom of his decision - given recent history between the parties - was questioned.

"There is no history between the All Blacks and Wayne Barnes," he claimed.

When offered the chance to revise this answer he declined and had a pointed message to any All Blacks fans who might be upset with his decision.

"I don't give a toss, to be honest, and Wayne finds all the fuss [in New Zealand] quite amusing, I think," he said.

"New Zealand doesn't rule world rugby. New Zealanders have to remember that."

But given his testy response it's obvious the appointment will be controversial and it's hard to imagine the All Blacks being entirely happy.

But O'Brien said there was no chance the appointment would be revisited. "Wayne is in South Africa to referee a match the week before so it would be silly of us not to have him involved," he said.

"There is no significance in the fact it will happen on neutral ground in South Africa. Imagine if teams could overturn what referee they had each week. The whole process would turn into a shambles. So this decision will stand, there's no two ways about it."

Aussie Stuart Dickinson will ref the match. Dickinson was in charge of last night's match in Wellington.

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- Sunday Star Times

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