After finally achieving rugby’s ultimate accolade, Wayne Barnes has blown the whistle on his unparalleled career.
For a referee, the chance to officiate a World Cup final is the dream, and last Saturday, Barnes at last fulfilled that ambition.
The world’s most decorated official, Barnes was in the middle for a dramatic encounter between New Zealand and South Africa.
It came 17 years after he first got a taste of international rugby, and with more than a century of matches under his belt, there was no one better prepared for the showpiece.
There was a symmetry to Barnes’ appointment. He became 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, Barnes 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.
The Springboks edged through, and Barnes was deservedly rewarded with the ultimate honour.
Announcing his retirement, Barnes 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 refree 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 my family.”
The final in Paris was the culmination of more than two decades of work from Barnes and the last act in a remarkable career.
He 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 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.
He bows out as the most experienced referee in the history of the game, the final was his 111th Test match, and will now be remembered as a famous South Africa win, and the last game for the refereeing great.