Saints' sinner got what he deserved
Graham Jenkins at Twickenham
May 25, 2013
Referee Wayne Barnes shows Northampton's Dylan Hartley a red card during an eventful Premiership final at Twickenham © PA Photos
Leicester were duly rewarded with a standing ovation following their Premiership final victory over Northampton at Twickenham but referee Wayne Barnes was deserving of equal praise having delivered his own masterclass.
Dylan Hartley's disciplinary woe
His decision to give Northampton hooker Dylan Hartley his marching orders was brave given the pressure of the occasion and how delicately balanced the game, but crucially it was the correct call. No player should be allowed to get away with abusing an official as Hartley is alleged to have done and if he is guilty of calling Barnes a 'f*****g cheat' then he clearly deserved the red card and the hefty sanction that is now surely coming his way.
Barnes can expect as many plaudits as the Tigers when the dust settles on what was a thrilling encounter. The respect shown to officials is one of the things that stands rugby union apart and it must be defended at all costs in fear of seeing the sport descend into the farce that is football where officials are surrounded and hounded by players after nearly every decision.
Some may question Barnes' willingness to make such a big call that was always going impact on the match as a spectacle and arguably spoil what could have been a great advert for the English game. But with 100 territories around the world tuning in to the game, what better time for the sport to issue an emphatic reminder of the values that make it great? And no-one should have worried about the quality of rugby on show with Northampton's desire ensuring we still had a thrilling contest.
Barnes was not the only official to shine with his assistants spot on in their treatment of a seething Tigers boss Richard Cockerill who was promptly sent back to his seat having confronted the fourth official following a brutal but fair tackle from Northampton's Courtney Lawes on Leicester fly-half Toby Flood. It seems these sides just can't help themselves with controversy just as common as fanatical support whenever they meet with these just the latest incidents to light up a rivalry dating back to 1880. Who could forget the infamous punch-up between former Saints winger Chris Ashton and Leicester centre Manu Tuilagi? Ashton pulling the hair of ex-Tigers star Alesana Tuilagi? And the ugly confrontation between Northampton's Calum Clark and Leicester's Rob Hawkins that left the latter with a broken elbow.
Saints boss Jim Mallinder reflects on his side's defeat
This game was Barnes' third consecutive Premiership final - due reward for the leading English referee and he can expect to take charge of many more if he continues to handle the pressure of a big stage with the kind of assurance and cool-headed temperament that Hartley can only dream of.
"The aim for us first and foremost as officials is not to be noticed," Barnes said ahead of his latest appearance at HQ - painfully unaware of the drama that would play out. "If we can come away with no one remembering our names then we have probably done a decent job." Rest assured everyone will remember his name and that is because he has done an outstanding job at defending the integrity of the game.
Hartley's defence that his verbal grenade was aimed at Leicester counterpart Tom Youngs does not stand up to trial by video. Replays of the incident appear to show his eyes flicking from the Tigers front row to Barnes before his loose lips let rip. Even if he convinces the disciplinary panel that Youngs was the target of his venom, his outburst was not just ill-advised, it was stupid having come just a few minutes after he had been warned for a similar foul-mouthed rant.
Tigers boss Richard Cockerill offers his thoughts on an eventful final
Barnes took Hartley to task for another volley of abuse that may well have been intended for the referee but he chose to brush over it. But his generosity came with a condition with Barnes quite clearly stipulating that he would not hesitate to act if he heard something similar and thought it was aimed at him. If you play with fire, you will get burnt.
The Kiwi-born Hartley's competitive spirit is one of the characteristics that make him a formidable player and it has served Saints and England well over the years. It is also one of the reasons that British & Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland has opted to take him to Australia this summer but it now appears that that same fiery temperament has ended his Lions dream before it has even begun - and he only has himself to blame. If found guilty, Hartley can expect a six-week ban at best and his previous record may well count against him having been hit with bans for both eye-gouging and biting.
It is a shame that Hartley's actions will over-shadow the efforts of his side to claim a first-ever Premiership title and deny Leicester a 10th English crown. It is difficult to say if the result would have been different had Hartley not lost his cool and his place at the heart of proceedings but given the guts and commitment shown by his team-mates in his absence you sense they would have run the Tigers a lot closer than the scoreboard eventually told.
Only time will tell if Hartley gets a chance to redeem himself in the future because unlike Barnes, he is not guaranteed a return to the Premiership final stage.
Leicester sweep Saints aside on way to 10th English title
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.
"The only thing that will stop this England team from becoming a great team is themselves. They need to ask themselves 'what can we be?'" The Phil Vickery column
The latest Monday Maul looks at the hectic final weekend, the Lions hangover, the superb Mike Brown and the 'selfie'
"At the crux of this England team is a lack of fear, they are not afraid to throw playbooks out of the window." Tom Hamilton reports from Twickenham
"These little deft touches, the nuances O'Driscoll has perfected are what Ireland will miss most." Tom Hamilton on Brian O'Driscoll's final Test in Dublin