Wayne Barnes has announced his retirement after refereeing 111 Tests, making his last match the World Cup final between South Africa and New Zealand.
Barnes, 44, brought to a close nearly three decades of officiating having started in his teens, by saying it was the right time for him and his family to hang up the whistle. He spoke of his pride at taking the reins across five Rugby World Cups and 26 Six Nations matches, and, having been attacked himself on social media in recent years – including last weekend, pledged to continue to support officials against online abuse and threats in his retirement.
In a statement on social media, he said: “Over the past 20 years, I have been in the middle of some of the greatest rugby matches in history. I have seen some of the world’s best players and worked with some of the finest coaches the game has ever produced. Last Saturday, I was privileged to referee the Rugby World Cup final between two of the most iconic teams in sport; the All Blacks and the Springboks. People often say you will know when it is the right time to retire, and this is clearly the right time for me and for my family.
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“My children have missed out on time with their dad for far too long and I am now looking forward to family weekends, sports matches, school assemblies and birthday parties. My wife, Polly, has sacrificed more than anyone so that I have been able to achieve some of my personal goals. While I have been away most weekends and for decent chunks of the year, she has had to juggle being an amazing mum with two active children, along with holding down a hugely successful career of her own.
“I will continue to advocate for referees and work closely with the International Rugby Match Officials’ association to ensure match officials across the globe not only have a collective voice but also the appropriate support network for them and their families, particularly as online abuse and threats have become far too regular for all of those involved in the game. I am extremely proud that my career has spanned five Rugby World Cups, 26 Six Nations matches, three European Champions Cup finals and 10 Premiership finals, and I’m grateful for all of those who have helped me along the way, in particular, Chris White, Tony Spreadbury, Brian Campsall, Nigel Yates and Phil Keith-Roach. It’s been an incredible journey.”
Elsewhere, Jac Morgan will captain a team containing 12 World Cup squad members when Wales tackle the Barbarians in Cardiff on Saturday. The Wales head coach, Warren Gatland, fields four players who started the quarter-final defeat against Argentina – Morgan, the centre George North, the lock Adam Beard and the No 8 Aaron Wainwright.
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The Dragons prop Lloyd Fairbrother, 31, makes a first Wales appearance in the non-cap fixture, with the wing Tom Rogers and the lock Ben Carter also gaining opportunities. Fairbrother starts in the tighthead position, where Gatland was without the services of the France-based pair Tomos Francis and Henry Thomas, the Harlequins forward Dillon Lewis, plus the injured duo Keiron Assiratti and Leon Brown. Assiratti was ruled out with an ankle injury, while Brown has a calf problem, meaning callups for Fairbrother and the Scarlets prop Harri O’Connor, who is among the replacements.
The Principality Stadium encounter is being staged to pay tribute to Wales’ record cap holder, Alun Wyn Jones. He retired from Test rugby in May after making 158 Test appearances for his country. Joining him in international retirement will be the full-back Leigh Halfpenny, who will turn out for Wales for the final time this weekend. Halfpenny has 101 caps and has scored 801 points.
Gatland said: “Playing a Barbarians side filled with quality players is a good challenge for this group and a chance for players to put their hands up and show what they are about. “It will be the last game in a Wales jersey for Leigh Halfpenny, but also a chance for fans to see and celebrate Alun Wyn Jones and Justin Tipuric playing international rugby one last time. “We are looking forward to getting back out in front of a home crowd on Saturday.”