OPINION: Wayne Barnes has been hidden for too long. It's time to bring the English referee out to face up to his blunders.
Repeated attempts by Fairfax to question Barnes in the aftermath of his shocking performance in New Zealand's World Cup quarter-final loss to France in Cardiff four years ago were initially stonewalled by IRB referees boss Paddy O'Brien and then refused by Barnes himself.
At one stage our organisation even doorknocked Barnes at his hotel in Cardiff but politely had the door shut in our face.
At a time when the refereeing organisation seems to be trying to be more transparent, Barnes is like a protected species.
The James Hook penalty kick controversy from Wales' one-point loss to South Africa last night is the latest issue to blow up in Barnes' face.
The Welsh have followed the All Blacks' line and won't publically bag the referee.
That's probably a sensible line, especially at this early stage of the World Cup.
But the tournament bosses have been deafening with their silence on the issue.
TV replays suggest Hook's kick went over although they can be deceptive, especially in regards to when the ball bent back to seemingly go through the posts.
If that's the case shouldn't someone be jumping to Barnes defence like they were last time?
But more importantly, shouldn't Barnes be telling us this himself.
He's been to New Zealand in the last four years officiating here. But his mantra seems to be "silence is golden".
Barnes' biggest blunder in this is that the didn't go to the TMO for inspection of the kick as he is allowed to under the rules. In an age where referees don't hesitate to use "the man upstairs" for seemingly obvious ingoal decisions, this was too close a shave either way to ignore, particularly in a game at this level.
It will be interesting to see where Barnes goes from here in this tournament. He's down to control three more pool matches, including the Wales v Fiji match on October 2.
That's Wales' last pool match and it could be absolutely crucial to their qualification for the quarter-finals, especially after their narrow loss to the Boks.
Don't forget at the last World Cup, Fiji produced one of the boilovers of the tournament when they beat Wales 38-34 in their final pool match - a result that saw the Welsh miss out on the quarter-finals.
Wales are in the toughest pool of the tournament, one which also includes Samoa.
They need everything to go their way.
Yes, the Welsh need to make their own luck. But right now everyone seems to suggest they have been handed some very bad fortune.
How much more good fortune can Wayne Barnes be gifted? Will that extend to the playoffs of this World Cup? You wouldn't bet against it.
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