Centurion Nigel Owens: I owe my life to rugby
Welshman Nigel Owens is set to become the first to referee 100 test matches when he takes charge of France v Italy in the Autumn Nations Cup on Saturday.
When Wayne Barnes referees Wales’ opening game of the Autumn Nations Series 2022 against New Zealand in Cardiff this Saturday, it will be his 100th test.
In reaching three figures for test appearances, Barnes will equal the record set by his good friend and long-time colleague, Nigel Owens, who reached his century when he took charge of France’s win over Italy in the 2020 Autumn Nations Cup.
Barnes will then set an outright record of 101 tests when he referees the match between Six Nations Grand Slam winners France and world champions South Africa in Paris, on Saturday 12 November.
Sadly for the charismatic Owens, his landmark game was played without any fans present inside the Stade de France as it fell during the height of lockdown.
But it’ll be a different story when Barnes runs out this Saturday as the Principality Stadium will be packed to the rafters for the visit of the All Blacks.
For Barnes, 43, Cardiff is a fitting venue for his landmark game. As well as being the closest test ground to where he was born and brought up just over the border in Gloucestershire, the Principality Stadium is where he has refereed most tests.
Now based in London, Barnes has refereed Wales more than any other country, with this weekend’s game being his 29th test involving them, while he has been the man in the middle for 20 tests involving New Zealand.
In a video message to Barnes, Owens said: “Wayne, huge congratulations, it’s hugely deserved. You have been one of the leading referees in the world for many years and continue to be so.”
Barnes’ debut test came in Suva in 2006, a year after he’d become the world’s youngest full-time referee at the age of 25, when he refereed Fiji versus Samoa.
And the trained barrister did not waste any time in issuing his first cards, showing a yellow to Samoan centre Seilala Mapusua and a red to Fiji’s Mosese Luveitasau.
Barnes has since given out 94 more yellows and five more reds but because of his outstanding knowledge and application of the laws, and the empathy he shows to players, few probably had any complaints.
With a willingness to let the game flow, it is perhaps unsurprising that only one of his 99 tests have been try-less – Australia’s 6-0 win over France in June 2014.
Barnes’ 16-year refereeing career has also taken in four Rugby World Cups (2007-19), involving a record 21 tournament matches, but not the final yet.
Barnes was hotly-tipped to get the job at Rugby World Cup 2019, the year he received the World Rugby Referee Award. But England reaching the final scuppered his chances of adding one of the last few missing items to his stellar CV.
However, another record is now within his sights, and once set, it is hard to see it being broken for quite some time because of all the other current test referees, Jaco Peyper is the closest to him on 58 test appearances.
As well as 99 internationals, Barnes has refereed 266 matches in the Premiership and some of the highest-profile matches in the history of European club rugby – but without losing any sense of humility.
In a recent interview, Barnes said in true refereeing fashion, that he’d rather no one noticed him. But given his achievements and longevity at the top level of the game, that is nigh on impossible.