By Alan Dymock
WHEN THE news broke yesterday that referee Steve Walsh would handle the Lions first match of the summer against the Barbarians in Hong Kong and that South Africa’s Craig Joubert would take charge of the second test against Australia in Melbourne, there was a ripple of indignation.
However, if British and Irish fans are apprehensive about the summer appointments, it is nothing compared to the concerns of their pals in New Zealand
The man in the middle for the Lions 125th anniversary tour opener, Walsh, is subject of an inquiry by the RFU’s coaches following his performance during the 6 Nations encounter between Wales and England which ultimately decided who would win the Championship. Joubert has also been the subject of a similar inquiry by the Scots, following his performance in the clash between Scotland and Wales in which a record 28 penalties were given.
Yet while these two home nations simply seek clarification on the decisions on these two officials – particularly in terms of their handling of the set scrum, according to Graham Rowntree of England and the Scottish backroom staff – from the IRB and head ref Joel Jutge, some Kiwi’s are openly up in arms.
The All Blacks will open their Steinlager Series for the summer with a match against France on June 8, at Eden Park. Officiating that one? A certain Wayne Barnes.
Now for those of you with a short memory, Barnes last took charge of a tasty Kiwi-Gallic test six years ago. The one where France beat the All Blacks 20-18 in the 2007 Rugby World Cup quarter-finals. The one where Thierry Dusautoir tackled everything in sight, with an almost inhuman 38 tackles. The one where Barnes was accused of missing Damien Traille forward pass that led to a French try. The one where no card was shown while France frantically protected their line for almost 20 minutes, despite All Black protests. The one which prompted Sir Graham Henry to write in his autobiography that, at the time, he considered ‘match-fixing’ as the only logical explanation.”
The accusations during and after that encounter were hefty and prolonged. For that reason it is understandable that the IRB have waited to appoint Barnes for this fixture, with Joubert the man handling the World Cup final at Eden Park ground in 2011. The one where New Zealand scraped past France and that fella Dusautoir, 8-7.
Of course, unfounded accusations and grumblings aside, it is a tough job blowing the whistle. But fans have long memories and passion can cloud the factual recollections of events. It is, after all, easier to suggest a referee does not like a nation.
The men in the middle will be as impartial as they can, but in Aukland in June, Barnes will still be heckled as loudly as any referee ever has been.
Good luck to the men in the middle…