When Ireland kick off their World Cup adventure in Japan in a little under three weeks time the man on the whistle will be English referee Wayne Barnes.
He was in Dublin on Friday with Emirates, Sponsors of the World cup and also of the International Referees across the sport. In conversation with Tommy Bowe he provided a fascinating insight into the close bond that exists between officials and his own commitment to the sport.
Barnes is a qualified Barrister, specialising in the fields of bribery and corruption so at least we can be sure he will be pure and honest throughout what is likely to to be his final Rugby World Cup.
The conversation turns to that day in Cardiff in 2009 when Barnes was in charge of Ireland’s Grand Slam win over Wales. It was the last kick of the game penalty against Paddy Wallace that exercised Bowe though. Thankfully Stephen Jone’s kick came up short.
The referee won the crowd over at the end when highlighting his being in charge of Ireland against the All Blacks at the Aviva Stadium last November as being one of the highlights of his career.
If we have sometimes had an ambivalent relationship with him it is probably nothing compared to how he is viewed in New Zealand.
After refereeing their defeat to France at the 2007 Rugby World Cup I was voted the third most hated man in the country, after Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden,” he said. You need a fairly thick skin to stand in the middle of sport at the highest level.
You also need to make plenty of sacrifices.
After running the line at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday Barnes flew back to his home in the shadow of Twickenham Stadium. Tomorrow he will board an Emirates plane to fly to Japan where he will get in the zone for his opening fixture on Sunday, 22nd between Ireland and Scotland.
On Wednesday his young daughter will have her first day at school but that is something he will miss.
He has not yet decided if he will carry on as an international referee after the World Cup.
“Just like for players there are certain milestones and moments where you reassess and decide whether to go on. I will do that after the World Cup,” he said.
He was the referee for Wales and Ireland at Croke Park in 2008 and has been involved in many of Ireland’s biggest moments since. Who knows there could be one or two more to add to the list before he does bring the curtain down on his international career and return to Chambers.
Image Credits: Matt Browne, Sportsfile