Record-breaking Rugby World Cup final referee Wayne Barnes announces retirement

English Referee Wayne Barnes blows the whistle to end the game as South Africa's players celebrate their victory. Photo: Thomas Samson/AFP

English Referee Wayne Barnes blows the whistle to end the game as South Africa's players celebrate their victory. Photo: Thomas Samson/AFP

Published Nov 2, 2023


Wayne Barnes, the world’s most experienced referee, on Thursday announced his retirement from rugby having officiated at five Rugby World Cup tournaments.

Last week, Barnes took charge of his last Test match as the Springboks overcame fierce rivals New Zealand to win a record fourth Rugby World Cup title.

After the match, Barnes came in for some criticism from some quarters, prompting his wife Polly to come to his aid on social media after he reportedly received some death threats.

On Thursday, five days after the gruelling final, Barnes announced his career had come to an end.

“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,” he said in a statement.

“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,” he continued.

"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.”

Some of the records Barnes holds:

— Most-capped referee in test history with 111 tests from 2006-23

— Also involved in 92 tests as an assistant referee with three as TMO

— Record five Rugby World Cups

— Record 27 Rugby World Cup matches as referee, culminating with RWC 2023 final

— Second Englishman to referee a Rugby World Cup final after Ed Morrison in 1995

— Record 26 Six Nations matches as referee across 17 Championships from 2007-23

— Thirteen Tri-Nations/Rugby Championship matches from 2007-23

— World Rugby Referee Award recipient in 2019

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