Wayne Barnes warns referees will employ hard line over new scrum laws
Top official insists players must 'buy in' to changes and claims they are here to stay
Wayne Barnes, one of the most capable referees in world rugby as well as one of the more controversial, has spent the last few weeks giving England's leading clubs a thorough tutorial in the realities of the new scrum laws – a sporting minefield on which Newcastle and Bath will take the first steps on Friday night. Barnes has even run a session at Northampton, whose captain, Dylan Hartley, infamously branded him a "cheat" during the Premiership Grand Final at Twickenham last May and missed the Lions tour of Australia as a consequence.
Barnes did not address that unfortunate incident during his visit to Franklin's Gardens, because there was no need: scrum laws come and go, but questioning a referee's integrity amid a firestorm of Anglo-Saxon invective has never been anything other than illegal. He did, however, run through the changes that will, over the coming months, transform the nature of the union code's ultimate distinguishing feature.
"There has to be some buy-in from everyone to make this work," Barnes said as he concluded his nationwide travels at Twickenham. "There will be teething problems, obviously, and I'm sure we'll see that this weekend. But we have to make sure this works because we want better scrums and better outcomes.
"The changes will give referees different challenges. Last season it was about being accurate over who was collapsing the scrum. Now, with the front rows closer together and the bind happening before engagement, we can look at other things."
Those worried that the opening weeks of the season will be a penalty-infested mess – and they include a number of rugby directors, the most outspoken of whom has been Richard Cockerill of Leicester – will not have been reassured by Barnes's insistence on a zero-tolerance policy.
"If players continue to do something we spend the pre-season telling them they shouldn't be doing, there have to be sanctions," he commented. "And we don't want to start off being very hard in week one and forget about it by week 20. For this to work, we have to hold people to account throughout the season. That's why it was important for the referees to go into the clubs beforehand: we've paid over 40 visits to the 12 teams over the summer. They know what we're trying to deliver and I'm optimistic. From what we've seen so far, scrums are good pushing competitions. Also, they're up off the floor."
Wasps, former champions fallen on hard times, are also up off the floor, thanks in no small part to the efforts of David Young, the three-time Lions tourist who joined the club as rugby director from Cardiff Blues two seasons ago. Today, Young agreed a contract extension taking him past the home World Cup in 2015.
"There's now some real positivity about the future, about where we're headed," Young said in explaining his decision. "It's been great to have lots of players committing their own futures to Wasps in recent months and I'm happy to do likewise."
Neil Warnock sacked: Crystal Palace confirm manager Warnock has been axed following the Boxing Day defeat to Southampton
Manchester United vs Newcastle match report: Brilliant Wayne Rooney scores twice to fire up United's unlikely title challenge
Manchester United injury news: Angel Di Maria unlikely to face Spurs as Marouane Fellaini's 'mystery illness' turns out to be rib injury
Arsenal vs QPR player ratings: Could anyone outshine new Gunners hero Alexis Sanchez and who was worse than villain Olivier Giroud?
Manchester United 3 Newcastle 1: 'I'm playing like Paul Scholes,' says Wayne Rooney
- 1 Exclusive: Abusers using spyware apps to monitor partners reaches 'epidemic proportions'
- 2 Margaret Thatcher 'expressed fears of Asian rising' at Anglo-Irish summit in 1984
- 3 The 'Black Museum': After 150 years, public set to see exhibits from police’s grisly crime museum
- 4 Sussex couple die in suspected Christmas Day 'suicide pact'
- 5 The Unluckiest People of the Year 2014 (and one very unlucky giraffe)
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Rozanne Duncan: Ukip expels councillor for 'jaw-dropping' comments made in BBC TV interview
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
Ukip member gets into Christmas spirit with Union Flag plea to Santa 'for our country back'
Immigrants make UK racist, says Ukip councillor Trevor Shonk
BBC director Danny Cohen: Rising UK antisemitism makes me feel more uncomfortable than ever