That's all folks ...
June 2, 2014
Northampton pile over with the last play of the season and Dylan Hartley thinks they have scored ... and he was proved right some time later © Getty Images
It was apt that a season dominated by frustration with the increasing use of the TMO finished with a wait of several minutes before the man upstairs gave Northampton the Premiership crown. To be fair, in this instance the referee could not have made the call, and the TMO got the decision right and could be forgiven for taking his time. It also provided excruciating drama inside the packed Twickenham with, depending on replay angles being shown on the big screens, both sets of fans in turn deciding the evidence, or lack of, backed their claims. But that overshadowed two earlier controversial rulings on forward passes, and the authorities need to address this urgently in the close season if games are not to become even more stop-start. The three officials have to make calls on the field other than the killer moments, such as the last try on Saturday. Mistakes will be made, but then again many believe mistakes are made even with the benefit of replays.
About turn …
Bernard Laporte on Wilkinson - "I had hated him, feared him, detested him, before I came to adore him. How can one resist the charm of such a man?" Presumably the sudden change of heart from the former national coach of France came in 2011 … coincidentally, the same time he took over as coach of Toulon.
So near and yet ...
© Getty Images
For all the bold talk at the start of the season about restoring the importance of scrums by insisting on proper feeds, within weeks referees seem to have collectively decided they either did not like the new instructions or that it was a rule which was not important. Some of the put-ins at the weekend were so crooked they almost passed the front row and went straight to the locks. Several of them were with the referees crouched down next to the offending scrum halves. Without wishing to come over all Brian Moore, scrums are a cornerstone of the game and if conducted as they are meant to be, hooking one of the sport's real arts. If the authorities are serious about straight put-ins, then they have to demand referees enforce them. If they are not, tell us all and be done with it.
The one remaining domestic issue will be settled on Wednesday when Bristol entertain London Welsh in the second leg of the Championship play-off. To the surprise of many - ESPNscrum included - Bristol were thumped in the first leg and have to overturn a 19-point deficit and the loss of their inspirational captain Ryan Jones. They have a partisan sell-out crowd to back them - they were far more in evidence than home fans at the Kassam Stadium as well - but Bristol coach Andy Robinson will be a worried man. The club has spent heavily in the expectation they will gain promotion and if they miss out heads will roll. And if they do, next season will be no cakewalk either and will almost certainly be a shoot-out with relegated Worcester Warriors, another side prepared to splash out to bounce straight back.
While most papers on Sunday took time out to pay tribute to Jonny Wilkinson after a typically impressive final appearance which helped Toulon to their second trophy in a week, others took leave of the game in different ways. Steve Borthwick, a real stalwart, bowed out with defeat in a final for the second successive week, and although Brian O'Driscoll hung up his boots with victory in Leinster's RaboDirect Pro12 final his own involvement ended in injury after eight minutes. Still, he looked delighted in the post-match celebrations. Perhaps the hardest way to leave was suffered by those who never got on the pitch at all. So spare a thought for South Africa's Danie Rossouw, a man who has won almost everything from the World Cup down. He sat on the bench during Toulon's win and was not even given a final moment or two once his side were safe.
The other football
One of the least edifying sights of the Top 14 final was that of the Castres players chasing down the referee waving imaginary cards to try to convince/cajole him into sin-binning an opponent. Coming on the back of Brian Habana's pathetic 'dive' in the Heineken Cup final, there is a worrying trend for rugby's professionals to look to their footballing counterparts for lessons on how to behave. The chirping at referees has grown worse this season, for sure. Perhaps it is the endless sniping at them by critics, perhaps it is TV, perhaps it is the increasing tendency for coaches to come over all Premier League and seek to blame referees as a default excuse for defeat . But whatever it is, rugby needs to get behind officials and adopt a zero tolerance approach to dubious behaviour for 2014-15.
The reputation of the Barbarians has been tarnished in the last few years. Some very average performances, suggestions some of those turning out for them are more interested in the social aspect of the side than the rugby, and their role in a packed schedule caused some to start asking if they had become an anachronism. Dean Ryan, who coached their side on Sunday, said one of his main aims was to restore that image, and full credit to him and his charges for doing just that in an entertaining game. That around 38,000 turned out at the end of a long season, against an England D XV, and the day after another major match at Twickenham shows the Barbarians still have a place in the public's affection. They just have to make sure those honoured by being picked to play for them get the on-field/off-field balance right. As Ryan did.
Jonny Wilkinson prepares for one of the last kicks of his remarkable career © Getty Images
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