Anyone with any sense of All Blacks history will remember referee Wayne Barnes for a decision he didn't make at the 2007 Rugby World Cup. Controversy boiled for months and is still simmering in some parts of the world.

Coach Graham Henry reviewed the test and in his biography said Barnes had been lenient at the breakdowns and ignored 40 penalties against France while the referee and touch judges Jonathan Kaplan and Tony Spreadbury had missed an obvious critical forward pass.

We are not opening that casket again and to be fair to Barnes, he was appointed for that match far too early in his career where he did not receive enough help from his assistants.

As all referees do, he has had some glitches since but his feel for the game, empathy with the players and consistent rulings have pushed him into the top bracket of those who blow the whistle.


Refereeing remains one of the toughest roles in rugby and with the confusion around the laws and the increasing use of replay and zoom technology, rules, officials in the middle are not offered the protection and help they should be getting.

Many use their common sense or a touch of humour to calm situations and Nigel Owens has been at the forefront of that style. He has carried others with him, including Barnes, who looks and sounds much more self-assured around his work.

He left former All Black Ma'a Nonu in no doubt about the etiquette he wanted when he refereed Toulon's recent match against Llanelli. After another untidy breakdown, Barnes awarded Nonu's side a penalty while the midfield back suggested one of their opponents should also be sinbinned.

That brought another blast from Barnes and a warning that if Nonu asked for a yellow card again, he would be the one going to the sideline for 10 minutes.

Many things have changed for the better about rugby but the advice from stacks of players out in the middle is unacceptable.

Fantastic and while the referees are at it, how about they bin players for the sort of cluster approach and constant questioning which is escalating at an intolerable rate.

Barnes, Owens, Romain Poite, Jerome Garces and others should lead that united approach in the Six Nations and equally when the Super rugby series resumes, Jaco Peyper, Glen Jackson and Angus Gardner should deliver a don't mess with us message.

Many things have changed for the better about rugby but the advice from stacks of players out in the middle is unacceptable. Halfbacks are some of the worst offenders as they impersonate air traffic controllers and mouth volleys of advice.

Captains should be reminded before kick-off that they are the only players the referee wants to converse with during the game unless he has some instructions for the front-row or offside play.


The multi-player approach around referees in football or others mimicking the issue of cards is an intimidating and ugly tactic which does not need to get a foothold in rugby.

It was refreshing to hear that Owens and other referees have discussed the trend and agreed it needs to be halted. They will all have their ways of dealing with those situations and some officials will be more tolerant than others but they all need to agree about the levels of interference, intimidation and coercion.

Repeat offenders could be sent to referee a game to find out what's it's like trying to control 30 advisory officers but from now, all teams should be on notice that they play and the referee will make the decisions.