Mallinder fury over Tuilagi punch
May 14, 2011
Northampton Saints wing Chris Ashton heads for the sin bin after his clash with Manu Tuilagi © Getty Images
Northampton boss Jim Mallinder hit out at the match officials in Saturday's Aviva Premiership play-off semi-final defeat by Leicester for failing to send off Tigers centre Alesana Tuilagi for what he felt was a "clear red card" offence.
Tuilagi and Saints wing Chris Ashton became involved in an altercation in the 32nd minute of the game at Welford Road which left the latter requiring treatment after being the recipient of three punches to the head. Both men were yellow card for their respective roles in the incident, much to the displeasure of Mallinder, who was adamant that Tuilagi should have been dismissed.
"First of all, you can't have players taking players out, and you can't be hitting players directly to the head, punching," he said. "Chris Ashton did go over and give him a push, but you cannot react with three punches to the head without a red card."
Mallinder understandably felt it was the pivotal moment in a game which had been scoreless at that point. Leicester took the lead with a penalty from Toby Flood while both sides were playing with reduced numbers but Saints levelled through Stephen Myler six minutes into the second half. Flood struck again just before the hour and the Tigers sealed an 11-3 win and a place in the Premiership final when Alesana Tuilagi dived over with just nine minutes to go. Mallinder, though, was left pondering what might have been had the younger Tuilagi seen red.
"It would have had an effect on the game, because they would have been down to 14 men," he said. "But Leicester played well in the second half - it is fine lines. When you come to places like this, you don't get the 50-50s. I think the referee did go to his assistant. All I know is I have seen it, and to me, it is a clear red card. What did Ashton get a yellow card for - pushing?
"It's a big game, live on television and it should be one of the highlights of the Premiership season. I guess the referees and referees' assessors will have a real good look at it and work as hard as they can to make sure it doesn't happen again."
Mallinder's Leicester counterpart, Richard Cockerill, claimed that he had not seen the incident involving Tuilagi and Ashton but still argued that too much was being made of its significance in the overall context of the game and felt that it would be futile for him to dwell on whether a citing will follow.
"I was watching the ball, but the assistant referee clearly saw it and deemed it as a yellow card offence. I haven't seen the replays of it," he said. "It was a good performance against a really good side. Let's talk about that, shall we? Let's talk about how we controlled the game, let's talk about Alesana's try, let's talk about the scrum contest, not all the crap you boys want to talk about and make headlines out of.
"He (Manu Tuilagi) is a quality young player who does what he does exceptionally well. We will have to see what happens. We are guessing, aren't we?
"Our attitude to defend and not let them get any cheap points, and our tenacity at the breakdown was very good. We controlled the gain-line really well, and that was our best all-round performance for a long time. We wanted to put them under pressure. You stop them from getting on the front foot and they are not as effective as they can be."
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