Who'd want to be a referee?
March 31, 2014
Wayne Barnes talks to Dylan Hartley and Ed Slater after the biting incident on Saturday © Getty Images
Once bitten …
Clearly someone bit Tom Youngs during Leicester's win at Northampton but a lack of evidence means that nobody will be brought to book. With the finger of suspicion pointing, rightly or wrongly, at Dylan Hartley, he will breathe a big sigh of relief that life goes on. With a rap sheet long enough to make Joey Barton blush, the word is that Stuart Lancaster has made clear to him that he is one serious offence away from international exile. Hartley has been a key part of England's success this campaign and nobody wants to see him booted out. But there is a worrying feeling that keeping out of trouble for the next 18 months might test his resolve to the limit. We hope not.
Time, gentlemen …
Wayne Barnes attracted the full fury of the Northampton crowd when he blew for time with the scoreboard showing eight seconds remaining just after the Saints, trailing by six points, had kicked to touch to set up an attacking lineout five metres out . Barnes was, however, quite right. He had had it confirmed by the timekeeper that 80 minutes had been played and so he ended the game. Simple. The scoreboard clock was not the official time and if the players were relying on that, they were misguided. For Barnes, leaving the pitch with the locals' abuse ringing in his ears meant he finished as he started. They booed when his name was read out before a ball had been kicked in anger.
The weekend's awards
But for the grace of God …
Worcester's win at Newcastle is unlikely to be enough to keep them in the Premiership but after two weeks where they came agonisingly close to ending their wretched run, few outside the North East would begrudge them their success. But Falcons' supporters - not that there are too many of them in evidence most weeks - should be very worried about next season. Worcester may be keeping them off the bottom this year but with the side likely to be coming up from the Championship unlikely to be pushovers, Newcastle face a tough 2014-15 season. Last week's fans' forum heard how budgets are tight and the club is determined to break even. That all adds up to a very difficult season to come.
Setting up camp
Bath fans were livid - and the misfiring George Ford upset - after Sale clung on for a backs-against-the-wall 12-11 win at The Rec on Friday. A bizarre passage of play in the second half saw five-metre scrum after scrum in the same spot (ten in all) as Sale's crumbling front row conceded six penalties. Even a raft of replacements during the sequence failed to stop the rot. While Sale replacement prop Henry Thomas was eventually yellow carded, Bath were left fuming that no penalty try was awarded. By the letter of law, referee Dean Richards was right. At no time when Sale were penalised where Bath moving forward so he could not decide a try-scoring opportunity had been denied. "To eat up so much time and get so many penalties and not get a reward ... it's not rugby," moaned Bath head coach Mike Ford. His mood would not have been helped when opposite number Steve Diamond gave him a smile at the end of the game and said he thought Bath were "a bit hard done by in that corner".
Many have secretly hoped that at some point - but not a crucial one for England - Chris Ashton would come a cropper with his swan dive. He would do well to study Azukai Hashino's effort in Hong Kong which guaranteed his rugby immortality even if it left him looking a complete idiot.
A different conversion
Not even his best friends would claim Leicester coach Richard Cockerill is ever short of an option on referees. But this week he suddenly came over all sympathetic towards officials after Northampton moaned that the ref has cost them a win. ""You can't always blame the referee for the result," Cockerill pointed out. Expect normal service to be resumed very soon.
(Another) brave new world
Nobody asked David Moffett to come up with a vision for the future of Welsh rugby that did not stop him. That Welsh rugby is a shambles is a given but as my colleague John Taylor noted, Moffett the man raises a lot of unanswered questions. His recent galloping self-publicity has too often been cringeable - his mock video chat with Barack Obama was dire. But a better glimpse into Moffett the man comes by checking his Twitter feed. He's grasped social media with enthusiasm but sadly too often he posts before engaging the diplomatic part of his brain. All this does is hand a loaded gun to his opponents and make him increasingly come across as loose cannon best left on the sidelines.
On Saturday in Atlanta the USA qualified for the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Accepting rugby is not a major sport in the States, it still has a strong foothold and is spreading at college level where the costs (legal and physical) and health risks of American Football are causing concern. So what newspaper coverage did this achievement get? Virtually nothing. To their credit, the Sunday Times (Northeast Pennsylvania's biggest news team") carried a four-par report but that was about it. Nationally? Not a sniff. It's a problem any non-mainstream sport has in the USA - convincing those who set the media agendas that there is life outside the core US sports.
USA celebrate qualifying for the 2015 Rugby World Cup © Twitter
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