Austin Healey Column
The fans deserve better
October 27, 2010
Sale's Nick Macleod slots the match-winning penalty against Leeds © Getty Images
After another bruising round of Aviva Premiership action a familiar issue has reared its head again.
Friday night's clash between Leeds and Sale at Headingley saw the Sharks sputter across the finishing line 6-3 in what was billed in some parts as the first 'must-win' game of the season.
The result was a massive blow for Leeds and I thought the game brought up the question of ring-fencing the Premiership. Sale and Leeds are both anxiously looking over their shoulders at the trap-door into the Championship and both sides went in there to win at all costs - no entertainment value and nothing for your entrance fee. That's got to change, especially in places like Sale and Leeds where they need to bring spectators in.
On a cold night, you want to be up out of your seat cheering, not sat there trying to count how many people are in the stands and it's as much the responsibility of the directors of rugby as it is Premier Rugby.
I can understand a director of rugby or chief executive saying that they have to win the game to stay in the Premiership but there is a bigger picture too, especially if you're getting crowds of 4,000 in a 20,000 seat stadium. From a spectator's point of view, if you go down with a fight and put on some entertainment then they don't mind so much. If you go down without a fight then they get turned off by it. That's something for the directors of rugby and clubs to think about.
Dwindling crowds have been a worry at the start of this season but for once it's definitely not an entertainment problem. The rugby this year, bar Friday night, has been far more entertaining than it was 12 months ago. Friday night's offering was a standard game last year, a kick-fest, but this time around the standard of rugby has been far greater. Rugby's problems are tied up with the wider economic picture, it seems.
Away from the battle at the bottom, Northampton Saints definitely produced the biggest result of the weekend by hammering Wasps 37-10 at Adams Park. Beating Wasps away like that sends out a good message that they can play and take teams apart, but the home side were awful. Absolutely terrible.
They really missed Simon Shaw, especially in the maul, but the Saints beat them all over the field, in every aspect of the game. This has to be a real worry for Wasps. Even in their running game they couldn't get it together and failed to build from their set-piece. Northampton applied pressure to them all across the pitch
Wasps sit ninth in the table after the weekend - a point above Exeter - and at the moment that's a relatively fair reflection of where they are. They're perhaps slightly lower in the table than they should be but I don't think they'll finish in the top four on current form. At best they'll be looking at sixth or seventh. I have no idea about Wasps' recruiting policy or where they see the team or the club going but they're certainly struggling.
There was also a massive disappointment for Bath, who again failed to overcome their fear of Welford Road and Leicester. Before the start of the season I tipped them to win the league, which shows how much I know, and while they've got all the players they're just not playing very good rugby, for whatever reason. Before the game there was a lot of focus on Lewis Moody returning to his old stomping ground but I don't think that he was that big a loss to them - he wouldn't have turned that game around - and Luke Watson had an excellent game at openside.
Last year Bath were bottom of the table coming up to Christmas but they turned it around and went unbeaten before getting to the semis. It's too early to write them off but they need to start playing better rugby - they're not doing that at the moment.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Austin Healey is Lead Analyst for ESPN Rugby