Wayne Barnes was destined for the top from the very start, but has had to be patient when it comes to the sport’s ultimate accolade.
For a referee, the chance to officiate a World Cup final is the dream, and this Saturday, Barnes will finally fulfil that ambition.
New Zealand take on South Africa at the Stade de France with the world’s most decorated official given the whistle for the encounter.
It comes 17 years after he first got a taste of international rugby, and with more than a century of matches under his belt, he could not be better prepared.
There is a symmetry to Barnes’ appointment. He becomes the second Englishman to referee a World Cup final after Ed Morrison, who took charge of the showpiece in 1995, the only other time the All Blacks and Springboks have met at this stage.
Four years ago, he was tipped to referee the final, only for England’s stunning victory over the All Blacks at the semi-final stage to take him out of contention.
History almost repeated itself this time around, with only Handre Pollard’s late penalty denying Steve Borthwick’s men victory on Saturday.
The Springboks edged through, and Barnes has been deservedly rewarded with the ultimate honour.
World Rugby Chairman Sir Bill Beaumont said: “On behalf of World Rugby, I would like to congratulate Wayne Barnes on his deserved appointment as the Rugby World Cup 2023 final referee. Such an appointment is a reflection of Wayne’s calibre, not just at this tournament but over a distinguished career.
“It is a result of his devotion to the game, the support of his family and the spirit of collaboration and excellence that exists across our entire match official team.”
This moment is the culmination of more than two decades of work from Barnes, who became the youngest referee to have been appointed to the Panel of National Referees back in 2001 when aged just 21.
It was only a matter of time before he got a chance at international level, refereeing the first of his 110 Tests to date in Suva as Fiji took on Samoa in the Pacific Five Nations.
A Guinness Six Nations debut followed in 2007 – refereeing France’s victory in Italy on the opening weekend before he made his World Cup bow later that year.
His performance at that tournament caused headlines in New Zealand, with Barnes overseeing the All Blacks’ shock defeat to France in the quarter-finals in Cardiff.
But it is testament to his enduring consistency that he was able to move put that behind him and establish himself as the one of the world’s leading officials.
In the Guinness Six Nations, he was the first Englishman to referee a match at Croke Park – doing so as Ireland hosted Wales in 2008, while he was in charge of the return fixture in Cardiff a year later as Ireland claimed a first Grand Slam in 61 years.
Barnes became only the second referee to take charge of 100 Tests when New Zealand played Wales in the 2022 Autumn Nations Series and he has continued to set the standards, including being in charge of Ireland’s win over France in the 2023 Guinness Six Nations.
Now, as the most experienced referee in the history of the game, it is fitting that he will be given the ultimate responsibility on Saturday.