Wayne Barnes almost quit ahead of Rugby World Cup after Rassie Erasmus criticism

Colin Newboult
Referee Wayne Barnes and Springboks director of rugby Rassie Erasmus during the Rugby World Cup.

Referee Wayne Barnes and Springboks director of rugby Rassie Erasmus during the Rugby World Cup.

Wayne Barnes might never have taken charge of the Rugby World Cup final following the abuse he sustained in November 2022.

The 44-year-old took charge of the end-of-year series game between France and the Springboks, which ended in a 30-26 victory for the hosts.

There were two red cards in the clash, for Antoine Dupont and Pieter-Steph du Toit, but it was the final 10 minutes which left South Africa unhappy.

Rassie’s tweets

Boks’ director of rugby Rassie Erasmus released a series of videos on X, formerly known as Twitter, that took issue with some of the decisions he made.

The abuse intensified after that, with Barnes and his family being targeted by trolls, and that almost made him give up refereeing.

“Without doubt, it was a moment where you think ‘why do we do this?'” he told BBC Sport.

Barnes eventually decided to continue, however, and would go on to end his career by refereeing the World Cup final between New Zealand and South Africa.

“You sit down and talk about it and realise there is only 10 months to go [until the World Cup], and you don’t want the keyboard warriors to win,” he added.

The West Countryman announced his retirement last week and was widely praised for his impact in the game, with some describing him as the best referee rugby has ever seen.

Barnes’ decision came in the wake of the sport’s showpiece event, which saw him receive death threats from All Blacks supporters.

Becoming like football

Abuse of match officials is becoming increasingly common in the sport and is not too far from what football referees receive.

Barnes spoke about what Anthony Taylor had to go through after the Europa League final in May.

Taylor was confronted by Roma boss Jose Mourinho following their penalty shoot-out defeat and was later shouted at by fans at Budapest airport.

Mourinho was handed a four-match ban following the incident, while a supporter was charged with affray, and the whole episode left Barnes upset.

“It was hugely sad. That could easily have been me and my family after a game,” he added. “I remember watching that video of Anthony, and I was devastated because you see the human side.

“People don’t see the human side of refereeing. They think we are the man or woman who turn up on a Saturday afternoon who ruin their day. But we are actually human beings with families and kids and to see Anthony on that day absolutely broke me.

“People in positions of responsibility have to realise our actions have consequences. You can’t pick up your phone and abuse people. We need to be better.”

READ MORE: Former Ireland flanker slams ‘toxic culture’ on social media after Wayne Barnes death threats