Don't blame the ref - Clark

Prime Minister Helen Clark said All Blacks supporters should not blame the ref for the defeat to France at the weekend.

And she said whatever fans may be feeling, the players feel worse.

Miss Clark, who was at the quarter-final in Cardiff to witness the loss to France, said on her return from Europe today that she had felt the same disappointment that every All Black supporter.

But she added that was "only a fraction of what the young men in the team felt. They were devastated".

Her view on the match was that the All Blacks had been in control for the first half, but could not press through with it.

Asked her opinion on referee Wayne Barnes, Miss Clark said: "I think we would like the All Blacks to have put in a strong enough performance for the refereeing - good or bad - not to have been an issue," she said.

Earlier today it was announced that Barnes will play no further part in the Rugby World Cup.

Barnes has been vilified by New Zealand fans for crucial decisions he made against the side, namely the sin-binning of Luke McAlister and a French pass which looked suspiciously forward. Both resulted in tries for France.

New Zealand Rugby Union chairman Jock Hobbs would not comment today on whether Barnes' decisions in the All Blacks match were correct, but he said it may be discussed at an IRB meeting.

He told Newstalk ZB this morning: "I have to be very careful talking about referee performances. There were a couple of vital decisions he made which had a very significant bearing on the game."

IRB refereeing chief Paddy O'Brien told Radio New Zealand that Wayne Barnes had a superb game earlier in the tournament when he refereed the Italy versus All Blacks match.

"He's been one of the in-form referees, a couple of errors in the All Black game, but that is refereeing and part in parcel of the game - played by humans, refereed by humans," O'Brien said.

Irish referee Alain Rolland will take charge of the World Cup final at the Stade de France on October 21 (NZ time), the Rugby World Cup organising committee said.

South Africa's Jonathan Kaplan will take care of the first semi-final between France and England on Sunday at the same venue with Steve Walsh, of New Zealand, responsible for the second semi-final on Monday between the Springboks and Argentina.

Kiwi Paul Honiss will officiate at the third place play-off at the Parc des Princes in Paris on October 20.

- NZ HERALD STAFF, AFP, NEWSTALK ZB

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