GLOUCESTER, ENGLAND – Tons of action this weekend, both on and off the pitch, so let’s jump right in with the Aviva Premiership Talking Points and look ahead.
1) Referee Horror Shows
Once again, referees endured an extremely rough weekend, taking flak from the supporters in the stands, which they’re used to, and from the media, which a somewhat rarer occurrence. Rugby Wrap Up has been covering these decisions with greater rigor than usual, as decisions increasingly can swing the impact of hugely important and closely contested matches. Things are complicated by the fact that rugby, like almost no other professional sport, highly values the sanctity of the referee’s person and integrity. Questioning a decision can earn a trip to the sin bin, and commentators will generally jump on the player, followed by a declaration that “this isn’t football.” This weekend however, Martin Fox’s abysmal performance at Kingsholm that gifted victory to Gloucester resulted in calls for a re-examination of the refereeing structure used by the RFU and the Premiership. Fox first appeared to err in his determination to allow Gloucester a restart after Northampton scored what appeared to be a match-winning try. Then, he clearly missed two Gloucester players that were offside on the ensuing kickoff, followed by incorrectly awarding the Cherry and Whites a penalty decision that enabled them to secure victory. In almost any other sport, consecutive errors of this magnitude would have resulted in a forced layoff, if not outright dismissal. However, with the shallow pool of acceptable refereeing talent, it appears that such action is out of the picture with regards to Fox. All levels of the game, from local weekend matches to international Tests, have been plagued by inconsistent officiating. It may be time to dedicate more resources to that side of the game, especially as exposure and interest in the sport continue to grow worldwide. It only hurts the game to have the focus put so resoundingly upon the referees and taken off the players.
2) Sarries Running Away
After praising Bath’s form in last week’s Aviva Talking Points column, it’s only fair to give credit to the side that dismantled them this weekend, Saracens. With 13 tries in three matches, the Sarries are producing the attacking rugby that was promised with their installation of an artificial pitch. Early last season, the side earned a reputation for playing stagnant rugby with sensational talents such as Chris Ashton and Owen Farrell. Now, anybody who suggested that the Sarries aren’t entertaining us sufficiently would be deservedly laughed at.
3) Danny Cipriani Back
More times than we can count, Danny Cipriani has been written off as a lost cause. His off-field behavior antics have been variously off-putting, worrisome and finally, sadly familiar. Last year, Cipriani was unfortunately involved in a bus accident that resulted in unconsciousness and memory loss, troubling symptoms in this day and age of concussion awareness. However, he returned to the pitch this weekend and was in sensational form as Sale squeaked past London Wasps. In the first half, Cipriani slotted two penalties, and converted a try that he an integral role in creating. Though he may never reach the heights suggested by his call-up to the England squad at the tender age of 21, hopefully his undeniable talent will continue to shine through during the season.
4) Rugby Champions Cup Formed
The Premiership and the Top 14 formalized an agreement for a new competition beginning next year, called the Rugby Champions Cup. Though the name is certainly misleading (far more teams than the respective league champions will be participating) details are – at this point – almost entirely non-existent, as the competition remains in flux. The ERC, (European Rugby Championship) who run the Heineken Cup, have not given up hope of continuing with that competition. Sadly for them, the Premiership and Top 14 both continued to avow their lack of interest in returning to the competition and the formal announcement of a new competition suggests that it is mere wishful thinking on the part of the ERC that talks will continue. The Rugby Champions Cup has all the leverage and likely will ensure the continued presence of a European Club Championship next year. Though the difference for fans between the two competitions will likely be negligible, the niggling matter of TV rights will likely rear its ugly head once more before the saga is resolved. As it is, expect this year to be the last iteration of the European Championship as currently constituted and under these organizers.
That’s it for now… feel free to comment below, look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter @: RugbyWrapUp, Junoir Blaber, DJ Eberle, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Cody Kuxmann and Declan Yeats, respectively.