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Player safety is paramount for referees - Wayne Barnes

Leading English referee Wayne Barnes says that player safety is "paramount" for officials with the new Aviva Premiership season about to kick off.

But Barnes admits aerial challenges involving players remains a testing area when it comes to the decision-making process.

"Challenges in the air is still one of the hardest decision-making areas for the referee because there is so much to take into consideration," Barnes said, during a Rugby Football Union laws media briefing on Thursday.

"We will be looking at all the factors that aggravate it.

"For example, does the player deliberately play a man in the air, which would obviously aggravate it? How did he land? Did he land heavily? Did he land from a height? Does he land on the head or shoulder?

"Also, and this has been a big push from the players, we have to take into consideration how quickly the game is happening.

"What we hope we will see this year is a bit more common sense and rugby decisions, so you might hear us explain our decisions a bit more over the ref mic so people know how we've got to a red card (decision), yellow card or a play-on.

"We want to protect players in vulnerable positions, and people in the air are obviously vulnerable. Player safety is paramount for us."

Barnes was asked about perceived discrepancies in the reporting and punishing of players who make contact with the eye area of another player.

New Zealand prop Owen Franks escaped sanction despite appearing to make contact with the eye area of Australia forward Kane Douglas during last Saturday's Rugby Championship clash in Wellington, with no citing made after the match.

"From my point of view, you have got to see all the angles. That's really the key," added Barnes, in a general observation.

"If, as a referee, we see a player deliberately put his fingers in someone's eye, we will deal with it, but I think we need to see all of the angles.

"If we do get something like that, we will stick it up on the screen and we will discuss that between the referee and the TMO (television match official).

"From a referee point of view, what we would say is we have all seen examples when it is clear, and I think the referees are consistent."

A number of minor law amendments will come into effect during the new season, including a move to banish simulation issues such as players diving or feigning injury, plus any back-chat directed at officials.

Additionally, a player who has been substituted could only previously return to the field as replacement for an injured front-row player, a player with a blood injury, or a player taking a head injury assessment, but he can now also take over from a player who has been injured as a result of foul play.

And referees can also now play advantage following a collapsed scrum, provided there is no risk to player safety.

Asked about player back-chat, Barnes said: "I don't see it as a major issue. I just think it is something we need to be aware of.

"I don't think it is a massive part of our game, but we all want the game played in the right way."

The Premiership campaign begins on Friday, when Gloucester tackle Leicester at Kingsholm and Newcastle host Sale Sharks.


From Belfast Telegraph