Saturday 15 December 2018

Neil Francis: Wayne Barnes should never get final again after shocking display

Lack of awareness by referee and Racing wing ensured occasion was a forgettable one

Wayne Barnes gives Leinster lock Devin Toner a lecture in Bilbao. Photo: Sportsfile
Wayne Barnes gives Leinster lock Devin Toner a lecture in Bilbao. Photo: Sportsfile
Neil Francis

Neil Francis

The men's toilet is not normally a place where I introduce myself to strangers but it was the crest on this fella's jersey that initially garnered my interest. Independiente RC Santander - one of many rugby clubs operating in the Spanish Basque region.

My new friend looked like he was in his late thirties but still played and had watched all of the knockout stages of the Champions Cup this year, was enthralled by the quality and made sure he would be there for the big one.

He had gone to London for the Toulon-Clermont final a few years ago and was in Bilbao here with a big group of his mates.

The Spanish presence at the ground was unmistakeable. Amateur, colourful, noisy, partisan and there to simply watch the big boys play - just like the Munster fans.

I think Leinster people have long since stopped taking offence at the hordes of Munster supporters who have gone to finals to support Leicester, Northampton, Racing and probably even Ulster.

Donnacha Ryan supporters' clubs, Racing jerseys with Zebo on the back, and red jerseys with Racing scarves.

Bray’s Jack Conan celebrates after the European Rugby Champions Cup final between Leinster and Racing 92. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Bray’s Jack Conan celebrates after the European Rugby Champions Cup final between Leinster and Racing 92. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Not even a 'Munster by the grace of God' - langer for a day T-shirt. Maybe it's natural and healthy to stir the pot of enmity at times like this. Maybe there will be a thunderous contest this Saturday at the RDS.

Back to our big Spanish friend. I never got his name and never got to see him after the game. What must he have thought? El escaparate is the Spanish for showcase - €95 for a ticket, you would want €94 of it back.

I am a fair-weather purist - even this one did nothing for me. It was a dreadful spectacle - endorsed by a terrible display of refereeing given by Wayne Barnes.

Given that nearly 50,000 travelled from all corners of the globe to this beautiful city and that millions took time out of their day to watch the game, you would think that there would be a duty of care on the referee to ensure it was a spectacle.

Barnes could shrug his shoulders at the end of the game and think that must have been hard to watch.

In the era of celebrity referees - maybe it might have occurred to him that empathy was the key value here - if not with the players at least with the audience.

If Leinster had managed to lose the final last Saturday I would still be writing the same piece. One team decided that they were going to apply the brakes on this game and turn it into a stalemate. There would be no quick ball, they would be offside all day and if Leinster threatened to go over three or four phases, Racing would stop any momentum stone dead cynically, legally or illegally.

Barnes, a peerless narcissist, got his instructions from his masters - penalise anything that looks remotely like a head-high tackle. I could have sworn Cristiano Ronaldo was playing last Saturday the amount of players who were ducking into a tackle - the equivalent of diving.

12 May 2018; James Ryan of Leinster, right and Scott Fardy celebrate at the final whistle of the European Rugby Champions Cup Final match between Leinster and Racing 92 at the San Mames Stadium in Bilbao, Spain. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
12 May 2018; James Ryan of Leinster, right and Scott Fardy celebrate at the final whistle of the European Rugby Champions Cup Final match between Leinster and Racing 92 at the San Mames Stadium in Bilbao, Spain. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Other than that Barnes was left to his own devices. It was the Wayne Barnes show - like a cockerel who thinks the sun has risen in the morning to hear him crow, blissfully unaware that 50,000 people were there to see a game of rugby. They came for a symphony and got barrel organ music.

Clever

Laurent Labit is a very clever coach. He will win the Champions Cup with this team and I think they will win the Top 14. They really did out-think Leinster tactically - all this aided by brute force in the tackle and a potent mix of cunning and cynicism at the breakdown, all done outside the law but given latitude to do so by Barnes.

Racing did what they had to do at the breakdown and they got away with it. No quick ball and the game dies as a result.

You couldn't blame Racing for doing it as it was their only hope but you could blame Barnes for allowing it to happen. An empathetic performance was required - one team trying to play football here - one team trying to close it down. Barnes seemed also to penalise the attacking side too often - whether it was Racing or Leinster.

The better referees get the game flowing - there is an art or a skill to it rather than a fussy application of the law. Why not think outside your driving school instruction parameters?

At all stages a referee should ask himself the question - what am I here to do? Yes, control the game but remain unobtrusive and let the game flow. After 10 minutes it was obvious that this was going to be a long afternoon and two sides with a capacity to play beautiful rugby got into a boring war of attrition - one by choice and the other because they had no choice.

There were three deliberate knock-ons during the game but when Leone Nakawara made his, it would have been obvious to a lot of people what was going on.

Nakawara's deliberate knock came after three or four phases. A binning and it wouldn't happen again.

If Barnes had pinged Racing for their body positions or their slowness to get out of the way in the ruck, the game would most certainly have come alive - he didn't and we had to watch a shocker.

Barnes was oblivious to the fact that this stultifying episode could have been avoided if he had acted decisively and quickly.

Outside of Barnes, the game turned on one mistake. Many of you may have noticed that I do not have a huge amount of time for Teddy Thomas - a prolific try scorer but a defensive liability and a player clueless to the team dynamic.

That run to the touchline where he was pushed into touch by Jack Conan and Dan Leavy encapsulated what a witless and immature player he is.

It did not seem to bother him that this was the match - this random running up his own a**e cost his team the championship. He trotted back to his position on the right wing as if he had just put the cat out for the night.

disbelief I watched Nakawara who had brilliantly picked off James Tracy's throw to the front intended for Leavy. Teddy Iribaren's pass went to Thomas instead of Remi Tales and the lights went out.

Nakawara threw his arms in the air - I am not sure what "FFS" is in Fijian but I am pretty sure he uttered it. Yannick Nyanga and Ryan looked on in disbelief and Wencelas Laurent shook his head. Teddy didn't even notice how his pack reacted to his little adventure.

In the Racing box, Dan Carter was incredulous, Maxime Machenaud put his head into his hands. The whole section in unison a collective visage of painful bemusement - what a clown.

Labit, who had masterfully plotted this tactical coup, could not legislate for his cheeky Charlie of a right winger. Five years of planning and the man with the bun in his hair gives it all away in five seconds.

Would we have preferred something like any of the semi-finals or quarter-finals? A try or two at least.

Barnes has no empathy for what players or the crowd want. His masters may not think any differently and may have thought he did OK - in the real world he doesn't get a major final again.

This final was decided by two of its participants who showed a complete lack of awareness to the crowd and their fellow players.

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