‘Absolute joke’ or ‘excellent’ Wayne Barnes’ call has split the rugby internet

Seasoned international referee Wayne Barnes stirred up a storm online over the weekend by controversially penalising the attacking team for ‘causing’ a high tackle against them.

Barnes, in charge of the Gallagher Premiership encounter between defending champions Harlequins and the table-topping Leicester Tigers, ruled that Quins No.8 Alex Dombrandt was to blame for the high tackle of Tigers lock Calum Green and Quins prop Joe Marler in the 35th minute.

Barnes ruled that Green had – as a result of Dombrandt’s actions – had no chance of avoiding the headshot.

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The ref mic conversation between Barnes and the TMO Tom Foley gave a clear insight into how he viewed the incident, with the 43-year-old saying:

“Obviously you can’t push people into contact. He [Dombrandt] accelerates that. That’s the offense isn’t it? It is a high tackle, but that’s all caused by Dombrandt. Dombrandt accelerates Marler into the contact, which means Green has no chance to do anything. That’s a penalty against Dombrandt, isn’t it?”

What had often been red or yellow cards against defending players – contact with the head of a ball carrier – on Saturday became a penalty against the attacking team.

Some were totally in support of Barnes decision, while others were left scratching their heads. Tight Five Rugby wrote: “Wayne Barnes, that’s excellent refereeing. You can’t push players into contact, and it’s rarely called. Green would’ve had time to adjust his height if Marler’s speed wasn’t increased. Excellent call.”

Others couldn’t get their heads around the call, Olly Wallace Rugby writing: “Wayne Barnes is an incredibly good referee and I cannot stand petty official bashing – but that decision is an absolute joke …. No idea what’s gone through his head.”

Given that no red or yellow card was issued, it remains to be seen if the incident will be cited and if a disciplinary panel see it in a different light.

Barnes – who is set referee his 99th Test game when he takes charges of New Zealand versus Ireland this summer – showed he’s quite comfortable making unorthodox calls.

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