Tamed Tigers and tip-tackles
December 23, 2013
The stricken crossbar at Kingsholm © Getty Images
It was a weekend that saw crossbars broken, Tigers tamed, tip-tackles and an old fashioned relegation ding-dong battle. Monday Maul rounds up the talking points from Round 10 of the Aviva Premiership.
The troublesome tip-tackle
The tip-tackle; a facet of the game that makes plenty of headlines but still divides opinion. On Friday, Chris Hala'ufia was sin-binned, correctly, for lifting Dave Seymour and dropping him into the ground - on another day it could have been a red. On Saturday, Charlie Walker was the subject of a TMO investigation into his tackle on Anthony Watson, and again yellow was the answer. But it was Graham Kitchener's tip-tackle on Owen Farrell which seemed to get the most attention with Richard Cockerill somewhat irate at Wayne Barnes' decision to issue a yellow card.
"I don't know why he was in the bin. He's committed to the tackle, he hits the guy and he lands on his back," Cockerill said. "It's a penalty at worse so why's he in the bin? We conceded 15 points during that period.
"The yellow card was key because we were still in the game at that point. I'm not blaming (referee) Wayne Barnes because that's what he's told to do. But if that's a yellow card the lawmakers are kidding themselves. The game's soft. The lawmakers are having a laugh. It's a joke."
By the law, Barnes got it right, but you can understand Cockerill's frustrations.
Use the TMO
It was a bizarre decision from referee Martin Fox not to refer Tom Guest's second-half effort against Bath for Harlequins to the TMO and instead deem it held up. It looked for all the world a try as he bundled the ball over the try line. Referees backing themselves is to be applauded, but not when there is that much doubt - a decision that irked Quins boss Conor O'Shea.
"We are pretty disappointed that we didn't get the try that was 'scored', that it didn't go the TMO. When a try is so openly and blatantly scored why did it not go to the TMO?"
The power and precision of Saracens
The Weekend's Awards
Saracens blew Leicester away. It was a display of dominance seldom experienced by a Richard Cockerill side. Not picking Tom Youngs and Dan Cole, with that wonderful benefit of hindsight, now seems a strange decision as the Tigers were comfortably outplayed and outmuscled by Saracens' pack, their penalty try illustrating this, though it was poor form of Steve Borthwick to stand gloating in the faces of the Tigers after they achieved that feat. It's a dangerous thing to goad a wounded Tiger and they will no doubt use that as a motivational factor for the rest of the season.
The England No.10 conundrum
Danny Cipriani did well on Friday night but it is doubtful just how much the watching Stuart Lancaster would have taken from the performance. The conditions were dreadful - Cipriani's record of two from six wasn't great, but not even the best of kickers could have done much better. His game management was solid, if unspectacular. Come Saturday, George Ford's kicking from hand was impressive against Harlequins but he too struggled with kicks from the tee. Toby Flood was injured, but even though he wasn't in the squad for the game against Saracens, he still made the headlines as Richard Cockerill confirmed he was off to France at the end of the season.
Henry Slade was reduced to a role among the substitutes for Exeter's game against Newcastle and even though the coverage around Sunday's game between Gloucester and Worcester was focused, to a ludicrous extent, around Freddie Burns, he failed to get a chance from the bench. So what would the England coaches have learnt from the weekend's games? Little.
Building power from the front-row
Bath's pack had Harlequins' on toast. The Sunday newspapers focused around Jonathan Joseph's impressive effort, but it was a victory built on power and grunt. Harlequins had no answer to Bath's front-row as the likes of Joe Marler and Paul Doran-Jones struggled when faced with Paul James and Anthony Perenise. It was a worrying capitulation for Harlequins as Bath bullied them out of the game. Bath will probably finish fourth or fifth come the end of the season, a Premiership final appearance will in all likelihood evade them but their pack is currently showing a dominance their west country rivals Gloucester are surely envious of.
Crossbar farce lights up dire affair
It was never going to be pretty, but Gloucester's hard fought win over Worcester was a dire showpiece. The highlight of it, without doubt, was the peculiar incident before kick-off as the crossbar was brought to the ground by a giant rugby ball. When it was re-attached, it received the loudest cheer of the day at Kingsholm. Next season can't come soon enough for Gloucester with their new signings John Afoa and Richard Hibbard lying in wait.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.