Saturday's Final will be refereed by Wayne Barnes. Barnes is a 34 year old barrister specialising in Bribery & Corruption, that's the day job not a dig at his questionable decisions in past matches, for Fulcrum Chambers.
Born in Lydney, Gloucestershire Barnes was educated at the town's Whitecross comprehensive until moving to Monmouth School in Wales for his A levels. Lydney is roughly halfway between Gloucester and Chepstowe, north of the Bristol channel. He started refereeing aged 15 for the Gloucester society and transferred to the London Society whilst at the University of East Anglia in Norwich.
At the age of 21 Barnes was the youngest referee appointed to the national panel in 2001. Much like with players once the RFU have decided you are the bright young thing you are fast tracked and consistently preferred to others seemingly just as capable. Barnes is a decent enough referee but I have no idea how he has managed to be consistently appointed to internationals and finals (this his 5th Premiership final in 6 years) ahead of other capable officials such as Tim Wigglesworth or David Rose or Saturday's touch judges JP Doyle and Greg Garner.
Football only allows a referee to control one FA Cup final to both spread the honour around and stop teams consistently rubbing up against the same official, more of that later. A similar rule in Rugby would force the RFU and PRL to develop a bigger pool of skilled referees as they would not want a poor referee to scar their big occasion. The downside of this is of course you risk Sean Davey being appointed. Perhaps that is too big a risk.
Barnes has refereed Tigers 32 times since taking charge of the Premiership encounter with Leeds on September 11th 2004. Tigers have won 20 and lost 12 of those games with Barnes showing Tigers 19 yellow cards and 2 reds. That Win% of 62.5% is below the long term average in all games of 68.5%.
In finals since 2000 Tigers have won 9 and lost 8, Barnes taking charge of one win and 3 defeats. With such small numbers the stats are quite stark: without him we win 62% of our finals, with him we win 25%.
Hopefully this year's final won't be scarred by the controversy of the previous two where Barnes's thirst for the limelight has seen him showing yellow cards to Ben Youngs and Thomas Waldrom for debatable decisions. Youngs was on the try line so there was some justification but he showed no sympathy to the player as where exactly was he supposed to roll to? Waldrom's was a disgrace. It was a marginal call on whether a ball was in or out of a ruck just on the half way line. This was no cynical ploy to kill the ball, just a gamble that the ball was out. A penalty? Fine that is the ref's call even if I dispute it, but a yellow card? There? For that? No, that is being as controversial as possible for no good reason.
Barnes also yellow carded Jordan Crane in the winning Premiership final of 2009; this was for persistent infringement around the try line just before half time. Crane returned to score the winning try so that decision is given less scrutiny than the others but Tigers beware; Barnes wants to put his stamp on the match and will throw the yellow cards around like confetti to do so.
Barnes has refereed an East Midlands derby 4 times with Tigers winning the last 3 to Saints initial victory. Two of the matches erupted in violence, the first was the Play Off Semi Final of 2 seasons ago when Chris Ashton's off the ball kick to the back of Manu Tuilagi's head sparked a flurry of punches that earned both players a yellow card, with Manu receiving a ban for the final as an extra punishment; the second was 7 months later as Barnes took charge of another fractious encounter at Welford Road. This time Ashton sparked the brawl by tacking Alesana Tuilagi into touch by his hair, earning a 4 week ban for himself, Barnes then sending off the blameless Alesana for the crime of being a Tuilagi and in the vicinity of a Tigers shirt alongside Tom Wood for piling into the fight and apparently escalating it. Lawes and Murphy were lucky to get off for similar offenses.
Barnes has refereed Northampton 15 times and they have only won 4 of those encounters, and we complain about our record with him!
The problem with Barnes as a referee is that after his "performance" in the game away to Quins this year Tigers will have no trust in him at the ruck and may be wary of crossing him, second guessing ourselves into paralysis. This combined with the lottery he operates at scrum time means he is difficult to prepare for as he can suddenly decide to enforce anything he feels like and he has little to no feel for the game.