Owen Doyle: Mixed bag from Wayne Barnes as he continues race for referee gold

Toulouse simply better than Munster while Amashukeli caught the eye in London

Just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, it just did.

A feast of Easter rugby was delivered to our collective door.

Scipio Africanus “Sam” Mussabini: In 1924 Harold Abrahams was planning an assault on gold in the Olympic 100 metres. He had already asked athletics coach Mussabini for help. In a memorable scene from the movie Chariots of Fire, Mussabini tells Abrahams that he’ll have to watch him run first, explaining, “I can’t put in what God has left out”.

Abrahams won his gold alright, and a silver, to boot, in the 4x100 relay. Having prepared his runners assiduously, Mussabini would send them out with one final message.


“Just two things to think of now, the starting gun and the tape – when you hear the first, run like hell until you break the second.”

Barnes will be running for referee gold, if he makes it I'll be amongst the first with congratulations

Wayne Barnes went to Thomond Park, which saw a much better performance from Munster who had been absent without leave in the Pro14 final. Some of the old thunder returned, but Toulouse were simply better; particularly halfbacks Romain N'tmack and Antoine Dupont, another master class.

We’ve recently seen some performance glitches from Barnes and Munster coach Johann van Graan will have definite, valid queries, including a very squint-looking lineout throw before a Toulouse try – and a penalty against a mystified CJ Stander for ‘off feet’, when a judo-roll had put him there.

But I’ll just deal with the cards. Barnes correctly went to his pocket early, binning Chris Farrell.

Very curiously, he then let Conor Murray off the hook as he lay all over the ball with Toulouse storming onto the attack. Neither did foul play by Keith Earls, gratuitously tipping over Cheslin Kolbe who was flying through the air at the time, get the very obvious yellow card it deserved.

The approaching Word Cup will be the 99th anniversary of Abrahams’ victory. Barnes will be running for referee gold, if he makes it I’ll be amongst the first with congratulations.

But that race is not yet run, and it might now be timely to seek out a Mussabini of his own. Abrahams left no stone unturned in his golden quest, and others in the referee race will do the same.

With no Leinster match, many tuned into London-Irish v Cardiff instead. Hope you all did.

Authentic leader

It was a stunner. The Irish (coached by Declan Kidney and his sidekick Les Kiss, remember them?) produced lightening quick ball and the match flashed from end to end at high pace. Down to 14, then 13, they never thought of giving up. The lead changed hands three times in the closing stages, and when Irish won it with a try by the posts the clock was red.

No-one will be able to persuade me that it was correct not to sanction Gloucester's George Barton, for a leading shoulder to the head

Events were overseen by Nika Amashukeli who gave the refereeing performance of the weekend. God has definitely put a lot into this 26-year-old, and, with tutelage from David “Sam” McHugh, I’ll bet Georgia will, after all, be represented one day in the Six Nations.

Another Irishman brought his team to Gloucester. La Rochelle were excellent, and Ronan O'Gara, together with Jonno Gibbs, is instilling identity, passion and skill. O'Gara is a truly authentic leader and this team are buying into him, big time. At the appropriate moment, Ireland might be given that opportunity too.

Despite the assistance of an own-goal by La Rochelle, Gloucester never looked likely winners, losing 16-27.

Ireland's Andrew Brace was in charge, and put in a good evening's work. Like Amashukeli he did not over-speak, and, across both matches, that restraint was really, and thankfully, noticeable.

Brace has shown improvement very recently, the hand of World Rugby’s Joel Jutge is visible in what he is trying to achieve. But, no-one will be able to persuade me that it was correct not to sanction Gloucester’s George Barton, for a leading shoulder to the head.

Described as a legal tackle attempt by the referee, it wasn’t. It could have been a red card but the ball carrier’s height had suddenly dropped, and by a lot, so let’s mitigate to ‘yellow’.

The end-game in chess can be critical, so too in close rugby matches. Wasps v Clermont was decided at the last play: Clermont held possession for two and a half minutes, which, very unfortunately, included several non-decisions by Frank Murphy.

It's never good enough when defence and attack are not refereed in equal measure

It started off with a blatant obstruction (called ‘okay,’ by the ref), followed by two breakdown offences, and finally a clear as daylight plunging seal-off by Clermont’s Étienne Fourcade. Seconds later their full back Kotaro Matsushima sped in for a seven-pointer and the win, by 27-25. Oh dear.

Murphy will be disappointed, Wasps will have a heck of a lot more emotions. He’s been around a long time, and these should be easy calls for him; he also needs a much sharper focus when matches are perilously close, the clock winding down. It’s never good enough when defence and attack are not refereed in equal measure.

Bordeaux-Begles beat Bristol but the match saw a worriesome performance from Scotsman Mike Adamson, persistently going to TMO Neil Patterson. Over dependence on the TMO is bad, and that's what we saw.

One referral took over five minutes, while commentators pleaded that they had to get back home. Adamson lost both dressing rooms, and the pundits; there’s no little work to be done if he is to fully establish himself at this level.

Despite frequent claims to the contrary by their head office, the Pro14 is far from brimming with referee talent.

In the Challenge Cup, Connacht showed grit but went out to Leicester. Finally, completing this Round of 16, Ulster found it very plain sailing against, effectively, a Harlequins 2nd. XV.

Roll on next weekend. You know, it all just might get even better again.