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'We’ve been penalised a lot by him so need to be wary of our discipline'

Wayne Barnes is the man in the middle for Saturday’s Test against the All Blacks.

Sexton and Ireland have had a difficult relationship with Wayne Barnes in the past.
Sexton and Ireland have had a difficult relationship with Wayne Barnes in the past.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

JOHNNY SEXTON ADMITS Ireland will not only need to execute their game plan to perfection against the All Blacks, but get on the right side of referee Wayne Barnes if they are to record a historic home win in Saturday’s November Test.

Ireland have a poor record in games officiated by Barnes, losing six of their 10 Six Nations fixtures with him in the middle, and have often been penalised heavily at the breakdown. 

Frustrations boiled over after the 2015 encounter against Wales in Cardiff, when Barnes’ interpretation of the tackle laws saw him whistle Ireland off the pitch, allowing the hosts race into a 12-0 lead.

Although Barnes was in charge for Ireland’s Grand Slam-clinching win over Wales back in 2009, his relationship with Joe Schmidt’s side has been tetchy down through the years, meaning there is a heightened importance on discipline this week. 

Sexton, who was sin-binned by Barnes at the Millennium Stadium during the 2017 Six Nations, has recent experience of dealing with — and having difficulty interacting with –  the English official during Leinster’s Heineken Champions Cup defeat to Toulouse last month.

“Look, we pride ourselves on our discipline,” the out-half said yesterday. “We are coached to be as disciplined as we can be. We will look at a game and after the game we will get, not in trouble but it will be highlighted where we could have given away penalties.

“So our discipline, on a list of importance, is up there. We’ve come on the wrong side of Wayne Barnes in the past so it’s something we’re going to have to look at it even more so this week. We try to play by the letter of the law but for whatever reason in certain games we haven’t got that right with him.

So we really need to have a look at ourselves and see can we be extra vigilant there. We can’t be worried about them [All Blacks] because that’s their problem. From our point of view we’ve been penalised a lot by him in the past, more so than any other ref so we really need to be wary of our own discipline this week.

Not only have Ireland been frustrated by Barnes’ decision-making in the past, but also his unwillingness to communicate during a game, with Sexton adding it’ll be important for captain Rory Best to ‘figure out how he’s going to go.’

“I’ve only been captain once in Toulouse,” he continued. “We probably weren’t allowed to talk too much during that.

“It will be up to Joe and Rory to figure out how he’s going to go. We have to look hard at our discipline because you can’t give away too many penalties against the All Blacks.

“If you look over the years, we’ve given a lot of penalties away with him. We need to figure out why and rectify that.”

While Sexton is more concerned about Ireland’s capacity to stay on Barnes’ good side on Saturday evening, he was asked about Eddie Jones’ recent accusations, the English head coach again suggesting that he receives preferential treatment from referees.

“I was trying to guess who would ask that question today, I got it wrong,” Sexton joked at Monday’s press conference.

“Look, I don’t know how I was mentioned at an England-New Zealand press conference, that still baffles me. I didn’t think we were playing England until February.”

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Ryan Bailey

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