Lancaster's logistical nightmare worsens
May 19, 2014
The sight of Mike Brown injured will do little to improve the mood around England ahead of their tour to New Zealand © Getty Images
We are getting close to the part of the season where silverware is handed out but the long campaign is starting to take its toll on players' bodies. Monday Maul looks back at the key talking points from the weekend's rugby.
Lancaster's logistical nightmare
Last week Stuart Lancaster addressed the press and tried to put on a brave face as he explained the magnitude of the task facing England ahead of that first Test against New Zealand, a game in which he will be without those involved in the Premiership final. His worst-case scenario of a Saints versus Saracens finale has materialised and so for that game on June 7, he is without the following players:
Front-row: Dan Cole (Leicester, injured), Dylan Hartley (Saints), Tom Youngs (Leicester, personal reasons), Mako Vunipola (Saracens), Jamie George (Saracens), Alex Corbisiero (Saints), David Paice (London Irish, likely to miss the tour due to injury)
Second-row: Courtney Lawes (Saints)
Back-row: Tom Croft (Leicester, rested), Tom Wood (Saints), Billy Vunipola (Saracens)
Half-backs: Lee Dickson (Saints), Richard Wigglesworth (Saracens), Owen Farrell (Saracens), Stephen Myler (Saints)
Centres: Luther Burrell (Saints), Brad Barritt (Saracens), Joel Tomkins (Saracens)
Back three: Jack Nowell (Exeter, injured), Christian Wade (Wasps, rested), Ben Foden (Saints), Alex Goode (Saracens), Chris Ashton (Saracens)
On top of this he is facing a nervous wait over Mike Brown's fitness after he limped off at the weekend and both centre Billy Twelvetrees and hooker Rob Webber are likely to miss the first Test. Taking on the All Blacks in their own backyard is tough; facing them without the above players is nigh on impossible.
Saints go marching on
© Getty Images
On the subject of logistical headaches, Saints boss Jim Mallinder faces his own conundrum. On Friday Northampton face Bath in the final of the Amlin Challenge Cup and a week later they play Saracens for the Premiership crown at Twickenham. It is likely they will rotate their squad for Friday's game for what will be a true test of their resources.
"We've got two finals in two weeks to look forward to," Mallinder said post-match. "We've got two chances to bring silverware back to the people of Northampton."
Championship continues to thrill
The race for promotion to the Premiership is heating up nicely as both Bristol and London Welsh survived scares to book their place in the Championship play-off final. On Saturday, Bristol were behind at half-time against Rotherham but rallied through a try from Ben Mosses and Nicky Robinson's accurate boot while London Welsh left it horrendously late to see off Leeds as they scored two tries in the last two minutes to get the key aggregate advantage. If the last-gasp drama of Sunday's game is anything to go by, we will be in for a real treat when the teams meet on May 29 and then June 4.
Red mist engulfs world rugby
What was it about the weekend's rugby? On Friday Salesi Ma'afu saw red, literally, as he put a couple of hooks on Tom Youngs. On Saturday, the Sharks' Jean Deysel was red carded for stamping - and later on, the Reds' lock Ed O'Donoghue had a scuffle with Scott Higginbotham which resulted in him being issued with a straight red card after his fingers appeared to have strayed dangerously close to Higginbotham's eyes. In total, taking in Super Rugby, the Rugby Champions Cup play-off and the Top 14, PRO12 and Premiership semi-finals, there were 21 cards dished out over the weekend.
Referees set the standard
Despite the seeming card-happy officiating at the weekend, mention must be given of the two referees who looked after the Premiership semi-finals. On Friday J.P Doyle refereed the East Midlands' derby superbly and got the big calls right and on Saturday Wayne Barnes had to cope with a couple of tip tackles but again, was bang on the money. They let both games flow and while it easy to sometimes have a pop at the referees, they were both brilliant.
Time for Scotland to build around Kelly Brown
While Billy Vunipola was correctly named Man of the Match for his performance in Saturday's match between Saracens and Harlequins, Kelly Brown put in a huge performance at blindside. He showed a nice turn of pace to grab his try and put his body on the line in defence. When Vern Cotter takes over Scotland, he should do away with Scott Johnson's seemingly scattergun approach to selection and just keep the faith with Brown the same way Lancaster has done with Chris Robshaw. It will pay dividends in the long-term.
"Kelly is a wonderful player," Saracens boss Mark McCall said post-match. "I said to him after the match 'have you got quicker?' People see him as a more defensive player, a bit of a stopper, but on the ball on Saturday he was as good as anyone. I am so chuffed for him. His season for Scotland was a tough one. He is a great person to have around the place."
Time to say goodbye
The Premiership bid farewell to two of the league's finest players at the weekend with Toby Flood bringing down the curtain on his Leicester career as he prepares to move to Toulouse and Nick Kennedy retiring. Both have been great servants to the league and deserve every success in the next chapter of their career.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.