World Rugby Chairman Sir Bill Beaumont has led the tributes to Wayne Barnes, who today announced he is to step down from match officiating to concentrate on new ventures.
One of the all-time greats, Barnes’ stellar test refereeing career spanned 17 years, a record 111 tests and five Rugby World Cups as well as numerous domestic and European finals.
He bows out having achieved the ultimate accolade in the game, taking charge of the Rugby World Cup 2023 final between New Zealand and South Africa at Stade de France last weekend.
The match, won by South Africa, was a record 27th Rugby World Cup match as referee for Barnes. It was also his sixth match in the middle at France 2023, equalling the record he set at RWC 2019 when he took charge of New Zealand’s defeat of Wales in the bronze final in Tokyo.
A record international career by the numbers
- Most-capped referee in test history with 111 tests from 2006-23
- Also involved in 93 tests as an assistant referee with three as TMO
- Record five Rugby World Cups
- Record 27 Rugby World Cup matches as referee, culminating with RWC 2023 final
- Second Englishman to referee a Rugby World Cup final after Ed Morrison in 1995
- Record 26 Six Nations matches as referee across 17 Championships from 2007-23
- Thirteen Tri-Nations/Rugby Championship matches from 2007-23
- World Rugby Referee Award recipient in 2019
Beaumont said: “Wayne has been a truly fantastic ambassador for rugby, both on and off the pitch. What makes him so special is not only his stellar refereeing career, but his wider contribution to the game, making refereeing more accessible to more people. He will rightly be remembered as one of the greats – a credit to the game, his nation and his family.
“On behalf of World Rugby and the global rugby family I would like to thank Wayne for his incredible dedication, commitment, passion and love for the game, which led him to achieve the ultimate accolade in the game, selection on merit to referee the Rugby World Cup 2023 final. He was also a deserving recipient of the World Rugby Referee Award in 2019.
“Refereeing is a tough job, perhaps the toughest in sport. It takes a special person with passion, dedication and a support network around them to be so good for so long, to referee 111 tests and to earn the respect of players, coaches and fans alike.”
World Rugby High Performance 15s Match Officials Manager Joël Jutge added: “Wayne’s ability to read and understand the game is second to none. He also embodies the passion, professionalism and dedication that was at the heart of a superb team of match officials at Rugby World Cup 2023.
“He is a credit to refereeing, a role model for those looking to pick up the whistle and has played a huge role in advancing match officiating standards on and off the field. I would like to wish Wayne. Polly and the family the very best for the next chapter.”
Commenting on his decision, Barnes said: “Over the past 20 years, I have been in the middle of some of the greatest rugby matches in history. I have seen some of the world’s best players and worked with some of the finest coaches the game has ever produced. Last Saturday, I was privileged to referee the Rugby World Cup final between two of the most iconic teams in sport; the All Blacks and the Springboks. People often say you will know when it is the right time to retire, and this is clearly the right time for me and for my family.
"My children have missed out on time with their dad for far too long and I am now looking forward to family weekends, sports matches, school assemblies and birthday parties.
"My wife, Polly, has sacrificed more than anyone so that I have been able to achieve some of my personal goals. While I have been away most weekends and for decent chunks of the year, she has had to juggle being an amazing mum with two active children, along with holding down a hugely successful career of her own.
"I will continue to advocate for referees and work closely with the International Rugby Match Officials association to ensure match officials across the globe not only have a collective voice but also the appropriate support network for them and their families, particularly as online abuse and threats have become far too regular for all of those involved in the game.
"I am extremely proud that my career has spanned five Rugby World Cups, 26 Six Nations matches, three European Champions Cup finals and 10 Premiership Finals, and I’m grateful for all of those who have helped me along the way, in particular, Chris White, Tony Spreadbury, Brian Campsall, Nigel Yates and Phil Keith-Roach.
"It's been an incredible journey.”