Exclusive interview: Wayne Barnes reveals the decision he regrets most - and the one player who 'petrified' him

With over 15 years of refereeing experience under his belt, Wayne Barnes gives BT Sport a unique insight into his career: from regrets to his proudest moment as an official.

By Callum Davis Published: 5 August 2020 - 12.27pm

With over 200 Premiership games and three Rugby World Cups on his CV, Wayne Barnes is rightly recognised as one of the most elite referees of his generation

With over 200 Premiership games and three Rugby World Cups on his CV, Wayne Barnes is rightly recognised as one of the most elite referees of his generation. 

Ahead of his most recent appearance on Rugby Tonight, BT Sport decided to quiz the 41-year-old on his career so far: from highlights and lowlights to the most intimidating player he's ever come face-to-face with, as well as the one rule he would change if he could.

Question: What one rule would you change?

Wayne Barnes: “The maul rule. At the moment, if the ball doesn’t come out it gets turned over, which encourages people to lie on top of the ball. I’d look at a way of encouraging the ball in play around that area.”

Q: Favourite player to referee?

WB: “I always enjoyed refereeing at Worcester Warriors when Andy Goode and Shaun Perry were both playing there because it made me look slim!

“They were both big characters of the game as well and I think that’s what referees enjoy as well.

“What’s special about rugby is that relationship between players and referees and referees and coaches and it’s nice to have a bit of fun on the pitch when it’s appropriate.

“So to have Andy and Shaun running around throughout the game, giving you a running commentary was always quite enjoyable.”

Q: You famously sent Goode off, didn't you?

WB: “I did! I sent him off against Leicester.

“Before the match I bumped into him and we stopped off at the Hilton just outside Leicester and Worcester had stopped there as well so I was meeting my coach and having a coffee and Goodey walked in.

"I’ll get these, have a cake as well!’ he said. I thought ‘that’s very kind of you’! So as I sent him off about 15 minutes into the game he was like ‘coffee and cake didn’t work did it!’

“He did smash Tom Croft in the head with a flying elbow or a flying shoulder, so it was pretty straightforward.”

Q: Most challenging player to referee?

WB: “I was always petrified of Martin Johnson because he was coming to the end of his career when I started in the Premiership.

“2003 was my first [season] and obviously that was towards the end of his career and I remember I had to sin-bin him once and I actually apologised as I did it.

“I said ‘I’m very sorry I have to do this’ because he’s such a big personality. I guess he was always someone who scared me witless!”

Q: Best atmosphere you’ve ever refereed in?

WB: “I’m very lucky to have refereed at Twickenham quite a lot.

“I love Twickenham, particularly because I live about 500 metres away from it and I walk to the ground with my bag over my shoulder so you take in all the atmosphere as well.

“For example, at the quarter-final and semi-final of the World Cup, all of the team I was working with met at mine for a bit of lunch then we put our bags on our shoulders and walked across with all the fans through the fan zone! Twickenham is always very special.

“But I think the best atmosphere is the Millennium Stadium by a long way because of the roof, because of the noise.

“I’ve done Wales v Ireland several times and Wales v the All Blacks there, so that’s always a special stadium.

“I was lucky enough to take charge of New Zealand v Ireland over in the Aviva Stadium back in November and that was a special atmosphere that day, there was something very special before the match and obviously during the match. There was a real sense of occasion to that game.”

“I think I was voted the third most-hated man in New Zealand that year so it was pretty impressive!”
- Barnes

Q: Any decisions you regret?

WB: “You look back at your game each week when we get into Twickenham on a Monday or Tuesday and we’re always reviewing, we never have a faultless game.

“You’re always trying to improve week-on-week so every game there are decisions that I’d do differently.

“I think, perhaps the most high-profile mistake was in 2007 when there was a forward pass in the lead up to a French try against New Zealand, the fallout from that was pretty huge.

“I think I was voted the third most-hated man in New Zealand that year so it was pretty impressive!

“As a referee you never want to be in the headlines and whenever you are, whether you’re right or wrong, that’s not what you’re there for.

"Take the Dylan [Hartley] incident in 2013, although it’s the right decision, you don’t want to be in the headlines, that’s exactly where I don’t want to be as the referee.

“I don’t want my name in the press the next day at all and if I’ve achieved that I’ve probably done alright.”

Q: Best moment?

WB: “I think there’s a few. I mentioned the game in November [Ireland v New Zealand], that was a moment when you look around and you think this is something special.

“I ran touch down in Cardiff when Ireland played France in the last group game in the World Cup in 2015 and the noise on that day... it was full of Irish shirts and you felt you were in the old Lansdowne Road with a roof on!

“I just remember thinking ‘wow’ this is pretty spectacular.

“Any of the big internationals, they’re always special. You’re privileged to be part of such a fantastic occasion.

“I guess one of my favourite memories would be refereeing the Lions in 2009. It was the first time that an Englishman was allowed to referee the Lions.

“I refereed – I think Ugo [Monye] played in it – when the Lions played the Orange Free State Cheetahs.

“For the first time they invited home union referees to referee the non-Test weekends and I was one of the few selected.

“As a rugby fan, the Lions is everything that we look forward to every four years and to be a part, to be on the pitch with some of the greats of the game, was very spectacular.”