English rugby referee Wayne Barnes is an honest man who would never be involved in match-fixing, a top New Zealand Rugby Union official says.
NZRU high performance referees manager Rod Hill says he has known Barnes for a number of years and suggestions he may have been involved in dishonest dealings during the 2007 Rugby World Cup are outrageous.
"I know Wayne well personally. He's a straight up and down guy in terms of honesty.
"He's a guy who prefers the game outcome to be sorted out by the players." He said there was no way Barnes would be involved in match-fixing.
"I just couldn't even see it. He wouldn't participate in anything like that."
The comments follow the release of former All Black coach Sir Graham Henry's new book, Final Word.
In it, Henry talks about the All Blacks-France World Cup quarter-final match in Cardiff, in 2007, which resulted in a shock loss for New Zealand.
Henry said he felt the team had been "sawn off" by referee Barnes and other officials, including touch referees Tony Spreadbury and Jonathan Kaplan.
Mr Hill, with 30 years' experience of refereeing, said the saga was a referee's worst nightmare.
"Having a game with an outcome like that, no one enjoys that - in terms of all the publicity and all that's going on."
He said many referees he had spoken to were not fussed about the issue and were moving on. "It's history and that's it. It's an autobiography and that's how I look at it."
Yesterday, new All Black coach Steve Hansen distanced himself from the fuss, acknowledging that the team's performance on the day was just as much at fault as the officials'. Hansen was an assistant to Henry in Cardiff.
"Everyone in the world knows that the referee and officials didn't have a great time that night - but that wasn't the reason why we lost that game, I don't believe."
Former IRB selector Bob Francis, also acknowledged that the referees were not to blame.
"[The comments] are extreme. They are totally unacceptable and I refute them totally," he said. "I believe they are nonsense and I believe it brings into question his judgment at the time."
An International Rugby Board spokesman called Wayne Barnes one of the world's most experienced international match officials who has 38 tests behind him.
Barnes is a valued member of the international panel who demonstrates "rugby's values of fair play and integrity".
"As with all tests, the match official performance was appropriately reviewed in line with best performance assessment practice. The matter happened five years ago and was addressed five years ago," the IRB spokesman said.