In search of the Holy Grail of consistency – Wayne Barnes

As an international rugby union referee, podcast guest Wayne Barnes is well aware one of the quickest ways to upset players and spectators during a match is to be inconsistent in how he applies the laws of the game

26/07/2021

Ben Arnold

Ben Arnold

Associate Investment Director, Equity Value

Andrew Evans

Andrew Evans

Fund Manager, Equity Value

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One thing value investors have in common with elite-level referees, such as our latest podcast guest Wayne Barnes, is a desire to achieve consistency in our decision-making. Here on The Value Perspective, for example, we know we can never guarantee a particular investment will be a winner but we can give ourselves a better chance of success if we employ a consistent decision-making framework.

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In a similar vein, Barnes is keenly aware one of the quickest ways to upset players and spectators alike during a match is to be inconsistent in the way he applies the laws of the game. As well as being an international rugby union referee, he is also a practising barrister and he quickly identifies three elements people expect from him, whether he is dealing with them on the pitch or in a courtroom.

“The first and arguably most important thing people want from you – as a referee or as a barrister – is a total and comprehensive knowledge of the law,” Barnes begins. “They also want you to be able to listen because they are going to have questions – after all, players and legal clients are in a stressful situation. And they want you to be able to communicate honestly and succinctly rather than overwhelming them with detail.

Applying the law

“Rugby is a complex game, which is why you do need that comprehensive knowledge – but you also have to understand rugby is not just about its laws. It is about the application of those laws because, at times, there can be grey areas.” As an example, Barnes points to the law that says a player cannot tackle another player when they are in the air.

“Everyone knows that, if a player jumps for the ball, you cannot tackle them until their feet land on the floor,” he says. “Yet we also know that, when a player jumps to score a try in the corner, they can be tackled even though they are off the ground. So there are these grey areas of rugby and not only do you have to understand what the laws say, you also have to understand how they need to be implemented.

“No referee would pretend they have all the answers but rugby is taking huge strides here through working groups and information exchange between referees, coaches and players. Some 18 months ago, for example, there were concerns around how the breakdown was being coached, played and refereed so individuals came together from all those areas – plus some medics, as player welfare is at the forefront of everything we do.

“We started to discuss how we could change or tweak the breakdown. Not necessarily the laws themselves but we did change some of the ways referees were being asked to apply them, which in turn meant coaches and players had to adapt. These cross-party discussion exercises around improving the game are all going towards making rugby safer for players and easier to watch for spectators – to make it more understandable.”

Black and white or grey

Given we come across a great deal of ambiguity as investors, here on The Value Perspective, we ask Barnes whether he has a different way of approaching grey areas compared with things that are more black and white. “Black and white is a lot easier, isn’t it?” he replies. “Because a player’s foot is either on the line or it isn’t. Or to use a criminal analogy again – you either took money from someone or you didn’t.

“It is when you get to intention or recklessness, say, that things become more difficult to interpret – and that is why, as a group, referees are spending a lot of time together discussing these grey areas. When does a knock-on become a deliberate knock-on, for example, or when does a dangerous tackle move from being a yellow card to a red card?

“We are trying to give both ourselves and the game some clear parameters or guidelines as to what would make a knock-on deliberate or what a red-card tackle would look like. And, again, this is using the experience of players and coaches and medics, as well as referees, to say, OK, if we see these types of situations, this will result in a red card.”

Mitigating factors

Barnes picks out head contact as a good example. “If you tackle someone and there is direct contact to the head involving a lot of force, plus you hit them with a ‘hard point’ – a shoulder, say, or a swinging arm – that would suggest a high degree of danger and you are probably going to get red-carded,” he explains. “At the same time, referees have a whole list of potentially mitigating factors to consider.

“Has the tackled player dropped considerably in height, for example? After all, if you are aiming to hit them in the torso and, all of a sudden, their height changes because they duck to avoid contact, say, that might be a reason not to red-card you. Equally, a last-minute ‘step inside’ by the tackled player is going to change the dynamics of the situation.

“Such things can help clarify the decision-making process so players and fans can understand the game a bit more. We are trying to ensure a clear set of guidelines so, if the referee makes a decision in a particular set of circumstances in the first Lions Test, you will see something very similar happen in the second and third Tests too. What we are striving for – what players and fans, coaches and referees all want – is that Holy Grail of consistency.” As we explain in Four edges, the same goes for us here on The Value Perspective.

 

Author

Ben Arnold

Ben Arnold

Associate Investment Director, Equity Value

I joined Schroders in 2016 after spending 3 years as an analyst at the Royal Bank of Scotland. I them moved in to the Value team in January 2018 as an investment specialist after working for two years in Schroders' Distribution division. I am a CFA Charterholder and hold an MSc in Corporate Strategy from The University of Nottingham.

Andrew Evans

Andrew Evans

Fund Manager, Equity Value

I joined Schroders in 2015 as a member of the Value Investment team and manage the European Value and European Yield funds. Prior to joining Schroders, I was responsible for the UK research process at Threadneedle. I began my investment career in 2001 at Dresdner Kleinwort as a Pan-European transport analyst and hold a Economics degree.

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