One Englishman will be in the Rugby World Cup final despite Steve Borthwick’s side losing to South Africa in the semi-finals, as Wayne Barnes is the man in the middle for Saturday’s showpiece between New Zealand and the Springbok. However, he has previous with South Africa as a controversial decision during one of their matches led to his family being sent vile abuse on social media.
Barnes is one of rugby’s most respected officials but came in for scrutiny during South Africa’s loss to France last year. He oversaw a 30-26 French victory in what was his 100th Test match, but the game instead would be remembered by the backlash that Barnes received that nearly led him to quit the game altogether after several of his decisions were questioned throughout the 80 minutes.
South Africa’s director of rugby Rassie Erasmus posted a series of video clips on X (formerly known as Twitter) as he appeared to highlight decisions that went against his side. He would go onto receive a suspension by World Rugby for his social media activity.
But criticism on social media quickly turned into abuse towards Barnes and his family, as he opened up on the threats that he and his family received that led to the official reporting two perpetrators to the police.
“Criticism on social media quickly becomes abuse,” Barnes told The Good, The Bad and The Rugby podcast. “That is the world we live in. That is social media. But I make the decision to be a referee, make the decision to be on social media. Polly, my wife, doesn’t make the decision to be a referee.
“On the Saturday night, there started to be some direct abuse at Polly. Then, the following two or three days, there was direct abuse to Polly, threats of sexual violence and threats against the kids. That takes it to a different level. When you’ve done 100 games, you think you can prepare for most things. You can’t prepare for that.
“I don’t mind people criticising my performance and, if they want to abuse me directly, that’s their choice. But that wasn’t just a line that was crossed. You couldn’t even see the line, it had gone that far. It affects you and it affects your family.”
Barnes is a lawyer by profession and considered returning to his firm on a full-time basis while calling it a day on rugby, but decided against retiring from officiating.
He has now been rewarded for his dedication with the opportunity to referee on the biggest stage of all on Saturday, as he will be keeping a close eye on New Zealand and South Africa at the Stade de France.