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Nothing much has changed – or has it …?

My father has been in a bitter feud with Wayne Barnes since 2007, though I doubt Barnes knows this.

In the lead-up to the Rugby World Cup [RWC] final, after the announcement that Barnes would be the referee, there was hope for an end to the one-sided rivalry.

This hope sank faster than my half-pint of cider that fateful morning.

The radio silence and lack of reply to my text messages told me all I needed to know about how my father’s Sunday morning was going.

In 2007, just a year after making his international debut, Barnes was selected as a referee for the Rugby World Cup at only 28 years old, which was a rare achievement.

It was the quarterfinal clash between New Zealand and France that saw Barnes voted the third most hated man in New Zealand later that year and placed him on the receiving end of vile death threats and abuse.

Online social media platform Bebo [now defunct] quickly became a breeding ground for hate, with one All Black ‘fan’ calling for Barnes to be “shot by a sniper”.

RWC Chief of Officials Paddy O’Brien dubbed the reaction a “disgrace,” and New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark condemned the threats.

The incidents of cyberbullying didn’t stop there. South African director of rugby Rassie Erasmus took to the internet to proliferate a video seemingly showing instances where Barnes had favoured other teams over South Africa – this move saw Erasmus suspended but only served to open the floodgates for others to attack Barnes digitally.

Cyberbullying was a fairly new concept in 2007, but it really struck a nerve to find out that the same online vitriol from 2007 was being continued again, in 2023.

Barnes has once again received death threats, according to his wife, Polly Barnes, though it’s unclear if these have come from Kiwi or others.

Cyberbullying is a huge and invasive issue in New Zealand, especially among younger generations.

A NetSafe survey in 2023 showed that only 41 per cent of adolescents reported instances of cyberbullying – while only 25 per cent of them felt their complaint was taken seriously.

I asked my father recently why he had made Barnes his arch-nemesis, and he admitted there were times he had agreed with Barnes’ decisions, but in recent times, Barnes had “let himself be dictated to by the TMO [Television Match Official].”

A sentiment that even Sir Steve Hansen, former All Blacks coach, agrees with.

Hansen took aim at the TMO in a recent interview where he criticised the “stop-start, no flow” nature of games that were at the mercy of the TMO.

“It’s time to sack the TMO, get rid of it out of our game other than when the referee asks,” Hansen said.

Regardless of the arguments for or against the TMO, people will always try to find fault in a decision or a play because that’s just human nature.

But in the wise words of Paddy O’Brien from 2007, “Sport is about winning and losing, and New Zealand lost.”

I stand corrected – my father was in a bitter feud with Barnes since 2007. My father’s new enemy is the TMO. Let us hope this feud doesn’t last a full 16 years.

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