What a reffing mess
September 23, 2013
Gloucester's Billy Twelvetrees lands the match-winning penalty against Northampton at Kingsholm © PA Photos
The latest round of Aviva Premiership provided the usual mix of thrills and spills and we have picked out ten talking points to bring you up-to-date and make sure you are not left scratching your head at the water cooler.
For Fox sake
The game of the season so far - and maybe overall - played out at Kingsholm on Saturday but sadly the thrilling nature of Gloucester's narrow victory over Northampton was overshadowed by a howler or three from referee Martin Fox. Firstly there was the question of time-keeping in the wake of Jamie Elliot's late try and Stephen Myler's conversion that appeared to give Saints victory - there was some confusion over how long was left but Gloucester were handed the chance to re-start the game. Then there was the small matter of at least two Gloucester players drifting off-side at the kick off - a penalty offence missed by Fox and his assistants. Then he chose to award a penalty against Northampton for standing up at the resulting scrum despite the fact that the ball clearly exited the back of the Gloucester scrum before being illegally kicked back in by No.8 Ben Morgan. The performance of the officials was labelled "a disgrace" by BT analyst Austin Healey and his colleague Lawrence Dallaglio suggested Fox should be stood down - but realised it wouldn't happen as there are not enough suitably-qualified officials to accommodate that enforced loss.
Catch me if you can
Northampton winger George North entered this season with the weight of expectation on his shoulders having starred for Wales and the British & Irish Lions in recent months so you can perhaps forgive him for his relatively sluggish start to his life as a Premiership player. But he finally shrugged the ring rust at Kingsholm on Saturday with dazzling run from inside his own 22 that accounted for four Gloucester defenders and set up a try for team-mate Jamie Elliott - but it also promised so much more in the weeks and months ahead. Saints fans have reason to be excited.
Saracens set the standard
Three games, three bonus point victories - Saracens are in sensational form. They laid down their latest impressive marker against a Bath side that was unbeaten and had already claimed the scalp of defending champions Leicester. Sarries' three victories have produced 13 tries with an average winning margin of 23 points - next up is Harlequins.
Leave it to the experts
BT Sport listened to their outraged viewers last week and thankfully left it to their plethora of rugby pundits to discuss the action from the Saturday afternoon clash between Gloucester and Northampton. Last week's decision to throw back to the BT studios and face-of-the-channel Jake Humphrey in order to mix in some football updates sparked uproar on social media and although the criticism didn't make their 'social media hub' the message appeared to get through. BT Sport's attempts to overlap coverage and tempt football viewers into sticking with the rugby is not without its merit - and has reportedly brought a sharp increase in audience figures - but the Grandstand-style approach requires a little work.
Bunny ears but sharp teeth
Leicester centre Manu Tuilagi invited criticism for his 'bunny ears' prank on Prime Minister David Cameron last week but drew nothing but praise for his showing against Newcastle at Welford Road. "There are not many players in world rugby who can do what Manu does," was assistant coach Paul Burke's take on the strong-running centre's performance that included a key role in two first half tries. It was his first performance since the Lions tour so imagine what he will do when he has shaken off the rust.
What's in a name?
If the thought of the axe falling on the Heineken Cup was not bad enough, now we have to ponder a likely alternative called the 'Rugby Champions Cup'. We're not quite sure about the name given that at present only teams from two leagues are set to feature and a competition featuring just a couple sides would struggle to fill the void. All jokes aside, it is clear they are looking to replicate the success of the Champions League in football and being a 'champion' will not be a strict qualifying criteria should talks to save the Heineken Cup fail and this new tournament come to fruition. Premiership Rugby appear set on re-shaping the European landscape, having registered the rugbychampionscup.com and .co.uk domain names, and promise to reveal further details about the structure of the competition later this year - at which point the clubs will finally know what is required of them this season to guarantee European rugby next season.
Robshaw roars back
At the end of a week that saw countless reports suggest that Northampton flanker Tom Wood has been chosen as England's captain for the end of year internationals, a certain Chris Robshaw delivered a timely reminder of his class in Harlequins' impressive victory over Worcester Warriors on Friday night. England's captain for this year's Six Nations, Robshaw was rested for the summer tour of South America with Wood handed the captaincy. Wood was coach Stuart Lancaster's first choice following his appointment in 2011 - only for injury to intervene but the England boss has told Quins boss Conor O'Shea that any rumours regarding the captaincy were just that and Robshaw responded with a gutsy all-action display at Sixways including a key role in Danny Care's try. If form and fitness will decide the captaincy as we are led to believe, then Robshaw would appear to be setting the standard.
Hitting the headlines for the right reasons
Danny Cipriani looked set to make a quiet return to the Premiership stage on Friday night as Sale Sharks entertained London Wasps but it didn't quite turn out that way. The gifted playmaker was named on the bench having battled back to fitness after being hit by a bus at the end of last season. He hasn't been too far from the headlines in the ensuing months due to his tabloid-friendly love life, but thankfully he returned to the headlines for all the right reasons with an eye-catching and pivotal display having been thrust into the action early on following an injury to first-choice No.10 Nick Macleod. It was the Sharks' second win from three outings this season having won just seven games all last season - so have the Sharks and Cipriani emerged from the doldrums?
Who will wing it for England?
England head coach Stuart Lancaster appears to be spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing his wingers for the opening autumn international against Australia on November 2. So far this season, all the talk has been about the young guns Christian Wade and Marland Yarde and they would certainly appear to be pressing for selection with the latter having already bagged four tries this term. But spare a thought for the more mature speedsters - Saracens' David Strettle, who is currently sitting alongside Yarde at the top of the try-scoring charts, and his team-mate Chris Ashton, who may not be among the tries but according to his coach Mark McCall is in "exceptional" and "brilliant" form.
Turnstiles not spinning so fast
Premiership Rugby hailed some promising attendance figures on the eve of the weekend action that revealed an increase in the average match attendance over the first two rounds of this season compared with last season. Unfortunately, that figure has fallen below last season's numbers following the third round of action with the latest games contributing to an average over the first three rounds of 12,363 supporters as opposed to 13,578 at the start of the 2013-13 campaign.
Northampton's George North carves his way through the Gloucester defence at Kingsholm © Getty Images
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.
"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
Last year's thrashing at the hands of Wales was not the first time England have fallen to their rivals. Scrum Sevens looks at whether they have bounced back the following year
With just two rounds left in the 2014 championship, the intensity cranks up a notch at Twickenham. Tom Hamilton previews the weekend's action
"I had a perfect record against England as did a few other Welshmen. England always seemed to bring the best out of us." John Taylor on the age-old rivalry