New Zealand Rugby Union chairman Jock Hobbs yesterday openly condemned the refereeing performance of Englishman Wayne Barnes, saying he committed errors that cost the All Blacks 17 points in their 20-18 World Cup quarter-final loss to France.
"Some of the decisions the referee made had an enormous bearing on the outcome," Hobbs said. "In our view some of the decisions were very, very questionable."
While New Zealand fans have been bitterly critical of the 28-year-old referee since their team's loss on Saturday saying he awarded France their winning try from a forward pass, the All Blacks team and rugby union officials previously had been diplomatic.
Hobbs broke an official silence on Barnes' performance yesterday after announcing his union would mount a full independent inquiry into the All Blacks' World Cup failure, which is expected to have severe financial ramifications for the sport in New Zealand.
Asked if the referee's performance would be considered as a factor in the All Blacks' defeat, Hobbs said it had to be but added the responsibility for evaluating Barnes' performance lay with Rugby World Cup Ltd and the International Rugby Board.
The IRB's referees manager, New Zealander Paddy O'Brien, already has defended Barnes who, as a novice referee, was a controversial appointment to the match. O'Brien has said the better team won and the Kiwis should "get over it."
Barnes, a qualified barrister who switched to professional refereeing, controlled his first Test match in February and was considered an unlikely appointment to such an important match.
O'Brien admitted a pass leading to France's second try was forward, but said he had spoken to Barnes since Saturday's match to tell him he stood by him. He advised Barnes to ignore criticism coming from New Zealand and to be proud of his performance.
"We will be reviewing Wayne's performance," O'Brien said. "There is not one referee at this World Cup who has not made mistakes in games. That's part and parcel of refereeing. Overall we thought Wayne refereed very well."
The IRB announced late yesterday that Barnes would not be assigned to any other matches during the World Cup. Only four matches remain.
Hobbs cited several critical errors by Barnes which, he said, affected the outcome of Saturday's match.
He listed the sin-binning of New Zealand center Luke McAlister for obstruction, though television replays suggested the French opponent had collided deliberately with McAlister.
Hobbs said France scored 10 points in the 10 minutes that McAlister was off the field.
He also said, and television replays confirmed, a pass that led to France's second try was forward, costing New Zealand another seven points.
Barnes' awarded nine penalties against New Zealand and only two against France.
Hobbs told Radio New Zealand from Paris yesterday that the performance of the referee could not be discounted as a factor in the All Blacks' loss.
"We would like that performance to be reviewed, to be consider as part of what we would hope anyway that Rugby World Cup Ltd. would do in terms of their performance," he said.
In a New Zealand Internet poll which had received more than 20,000 hits by yesterday, 38.4 percent of respondents blamed Barnes for the All Blacks loss, while only 23.7 blamed the team and 9.2 percent the coach, Graham Henry.
New Zealand rugby fans previously vandalized Barnes' Wikipedia biography, adding a mock obituary saying he had been lynched by an angry mob. Wikipedia later sanitized the entry, but left a reference saying some of Barnes rulings had "caused controversy among fans and commentators."
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