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Monday Maul
No place in rugby for the blame game
Martin Williamson
April 14, 2014
Tim Wigglesworth shows one of the seven cards he brandished at Kingsholm ... and the first of two reds © Getty Images
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The blame game

Referee Tim Wigglesworth may not be picking the West Country for his summer break this year after upsetting both sets of fans during Saturday's fractious Gloucester-Bath clash. Wigglesworth did not help the flow of a scrappy game and some of his decision-making was inconsistent, but he got the big calls - the red cards and late penalty-try - spot on. It was disappointing that coaches Nigel Davies and Mike Ford opted to ship some of the blame for what happened in the closing minutes on him. The card count was high but that was not Wigglesworth 's fault - he cannot be blamed for a high tackle or the cynical breaking down of play, and to say as many of our feedbackers did, that Tavis Knoyle throwing punches as if it was a 3am brawl outside a nightclub, was all down to the referee's handling of the match is missing the point. One of the tedious aspects of football is the way that managers/coaches/fans/pundits default position for most setbacks is to blame officials. Rugby has largely escaped that but it is beginning to creep in and it is certainly not in the game's interest that it does. Wigglesworth did not have a great game but nor did most of the players. Davies in particular should look much closer to home for the reason his side lost a contest that was theirs for the taking. His real anger ought to be reserved for Knoyle who was not only red carded but whose indiscipline meant Bath restarted with a penalty from halfway, snuffing out any flickering hope 11-man Gloucester had of regaining possession and snatching a late winner.

London Irish's Topsy Ojo secures a high ball against Newcastle Falcons, London Irish v Newcastle Falcons, Aviva Premiership, Madejski Stadiu, April 13, 2014
London Irish's Topsy Ojo secures a high ball against the hapless Newcastle Falcons © Getty Images
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No contest

With punches and cards grabbing the headlines at Kingsolm, largely overlooked was the unedifying sight of uncontested scrums for the last third of the match following the dismissal of replacement loosehead prop Sila Puafisi. Gloucester argued they had no loosehead available, even though tighthead Dan Murphy had played in that role when at London Irish. Davies brushed aside that idea - "It would have been madness and dangerous to put him on" - as he had not played in that position for three years. Scrums, for all their faults, are at the core of rugby and any game where they are not contested is devalued. The rules on replacements were changed to try to avoid such scenarios but there is also an onus on clubs to play their part. All rule changes throw up unforeseen scenarios. Time for this one to be addressed.

Warrior spirit

Worcester may mathematically not be down but in reality they have been nail-on relegation certainties for months. Unlike many other relegated sides, they will actually be missed as they have provided the Premiership with some cracking matches, even if that has been more about drama than quality. Four of their last six defeats have been by less than a score, often with late tries against them. Trailing 21-8 to Exeter within 25 minutes on Saturday, they would have been forgiven for rolling over but they dug deep and came within five points of a remarkable turnaround.

Freefalling

Unhappy days for Newcastle's footballers and rugby players. Worcester's occupation of the bottom spot has helped paper over a disintegrating campaign which has seen the Falcons lose 13 on the trot since they beat London Irish at the end of October. The net points deficit is actually worse than Worcester's (-242 plays -221) and they are the only side to have been beaten by the Warriors. On Sunday they shipped 40 points before half-time, including six tries, but at least coach Dean Richards seemed prepared to face reality - unlike his footballing counterpart who is clutching at the flimsiest straws - shouldered the blame and admitted his charges played as if they have decided they are safe. They probably are but he faces a massive job in turning round a side used to losing, even with a summer break, given the likely replacements for Worcester will be well funded and up for the challenge.

Western Force winger Nick Cummins is taken high by Adam Ashley-Cooper of the New South Wales Waratahs, Western Force v New South Wales Waratahs, Super Rugby, nib Stadium, Perth, April 12, 2014
A walking quote ... Western Force winger Nick Cummins is taken high during a game where he scored three tries © Getty Images
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Stumbling at the finish

Northampton went into last month's LV= Cup final against Exeter at the top of the Premiership with one loss in 16 matches. Their defeat in that game appeared no more than a glitch but since then they have lost all three Premiership outings and while there is no risk of them not making the play-offs, they will know that part of the season is all about form and nothing about where you finish in the table. If they fail to turn things around then could lose home advantage, but as importantly the aura that surrounds a side beating all comers has evaporated. Their May 2 home clash with Bath - now hot their heels - has now become a must-win game.

A class apart

Much as he plays rugby, Steve Borthwick wanted no fuss ahead of the weekend when he broke George Chuter's record of 262 Premiership appearances. He brushed aside interview requests, preferring to just get on with the job. As an uncompromising forward, Borthwick is in the thick of things and yet in his 263 (and counting) matches he has never been sent off. And credit to Chuter who waited until his record had gone and Borthwick had had his (reluctant) day in the sun before announcing his own retirement.

The quote machine

Hardly a weekend goes by without a priceless post-match interview with Nick Cummins - better known as the Honey Badger - and after a hat-trick against New South Wales on Saturday he did not disappoint. Understandably too exhausted to come up with any gems in his immediate chat, he soon recovered enough to tell a local reporter he had "crossed the line more than Osama Bin Laden". Let's hope nobody decides to send him a media course to make him more on message.

Losing his bottle

Not hard to imagine that what started out as a school rugby outing to watch Gloucester v Bath has become a day to forget for one - mercifully unidentified - pupil who lobbed his soft-drink bottle at match officials as they left the Kingsholm pitch. Quickly identified, he "expressed remorse" and faces a uncomfortable chat with his headmaster this morning. Safe to say, he may not be going on any more school trips for a while.

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