Earlier this week I reported upon Sunday’s Quins away game at Leicester Tigers (a 19-22 loss), which I watched ‘live’ on BT Sport, and therefore must half-apologise to Rust readers for returning to the subject and indeed sundry other matters.
I do so as a result of reading Monday’s quality newspapers in which our head coach Conor O’Shea criticised the failure of referee Tom Foley to award a penalty try to Quins right at the death as Quins camped upon the Tigers’ line in an attempt to win the game.
O’Shea, a consummate and cerebral media performer, is not normally one to lose his rag and so, as I have set a ‘record series’ option on my cable television box, yesterday I went to my recording of the match, fast-forwarded through to the post-match analysis and watched Conor’s interview in real-time. He was plainly seething.
The background is that, after Tigers had scored a converted try to take the 22-19 lead with eight minutes to go, Quins went all-out for the win. Under pressure the Tigers conceded a penalty inside their own half and Quins – being within 7 points of Tigers’ score, already assured of a losing bonus point – declined the option of going for a penalty (which Nick Evans would probably have potted to gain 3 points and therefore a draw) and instead opted to kick to touch about five metres out in an attempt to win the resulting line-out and crash over for a try … and a win. If you think about it, this made sense. Quins already had a losing bonus point in the bag and were risking just 1 almost-certain extra league point (for the draw) – by not going for the almost certainly successful penalty kick – for the chance of gaining 4 for a victory.
Quins duly won the line-out and the forwards began a maul with the intention of rumbling about five yards to and over the line. Mayhem ensued as the Tigers tried everything to stop this (in the previous eight minutes or so they’d already been monstered twice by Quins’ rolling mauls, conceding more than twenty metres of territory each time). One of their back row forwards even made a calculated decision to ‘come in from the side’ in the hope of disrupting Quins’ progress by lying on the Quins side of the maul – a penalty offence. I use the word ‘calculated’ above because in doing so he was taking a 50:50 chance that he wouldn’t be spotted doing this by the referee.
In this instance he got away with it and no penalty was given. Instead, because the maul did not make it over the line, the referee awarded a scrum with a defending side (Tigers) put-in. I referred in my report on Monday to the (inevitable?) fact that the front-rows went down three, perhaps four, times before the ball could be put in and that, as a result, two and a half of the three remaining minutes in the game were spent ‘getting the scrum started’ – this fact could have been ‘just one of those things’, but it could also have been deliberately engineered by the Tigers’ front row in order to wind down the clock. You can take your choice as to which it was and no doubt a Tigers’ fan would take a different view on this to mine.
He was clearly incensed that, instead of awarding a scrum to the defending side, the referee had not instead awarded a penalty try to Quins for the Tigers forward’s blatant offence of ‘coming in at the side’.
The gist of Conor’s thrust was that, despite Quins’ discipline being less than perfect (it had allowed Tigers back in the game) they had dominated much of the game and their pack had an excellent chance of rumbling over for a winning try right at the end. Instead, in the event, the referee had failed to spot the Tigers back-rower’s offence to stop the maul. However, had he seen it, Conor felt, he should have awarded a yellow card and an automatic penalty try to Quins.
He went on to make some pithy comments about the unfairness of ‘things beyond our control’ [i.e. a referee’s random interpretation of a specific law and/or – in this case – a failure to spot something] deciding a match and uttered a sly barb (in a reference to its public statement last week that referee Craig Joubert had indeed made a wrong call at the denouement of the epic Australia v Scotland RWC quarter final) that he fully expected to receive an appropriate apology from World Rugby in due course … but what good would that be, given that in this particular instance Quins had been denied their opportunity to depart Welford Road with an away Premiership win?
Having watched the recording of that last maul several more times, trying as a Quins fan not to be one-eyed about it, I can see exactly where Conor was coming from.
That said, to be fair, there is no certainty that – even had he spotted the ‘coming in at the side offence’ – referee Foley would automatically have awarded a penalty try. Although the letter of the law allows that one should be awarded when a blatant professional foul by a defender prevents what would otherwise have been an attacking side’s certain try, in practice just as often a referee will just award a penalty to the attacking side and then call over the defending side’s captain to give his team a second chance by warning that ‘if another deliberate penalty offence happens again’ he will have no option but to award an immediate penalty try.
And so there you have it.
Conor O’Shea was adamant that the referee’s mistake (in not spotting the Tigers’ deliberate penalty offence at maul-time) should have resulted in a penalty try, especially in the context it occurred, i.e. three minutes from time when plainly it was a case of ‘all or nothing’ for both teams.
On the other hand, even if he had spotted it, on Sunday in practice – arguably – the referee could just as easily justified simply awarding Quins another penalty and simultaneously giving Tigers a ‘final warning’ about having to award a penalty try if they did it again.
On such small margins, sometimes sporting contests are decided.
Thus on Sunday Quins withdrew from Welford Road with 1 league point (for a losing bonus point) in circumstances where they had deliberately ‘given away’ a potential second (for securing a draw) by not taking a penalty kick at goal towards the end, preferring instead to attempt to score a try in order to win the game [which would have given them 4 league points].
I trust that Quins will not now fail to make the end of season Premiership play-offs by the margin of a single point! I guess that fans of all rugby clubs have to take the laid-back attitude that things tend to even out, viz. that ‘you win some, you lose some’ and that, over a full season, you hopefully gain just as many positive ‘rubs of the green’ as negative ones.
THE PREMIERSHIP SALARY CAP DEBACLE
As a postscript, let me pass a cynical comment or two on the way that Premiership Rugby has kicked its review into alleged breaches of the salary cap into the long grass – the announcement of which was deliberately timed to coincide with a surfeit of media coverage of the run up to the RWC semi-finals last weekend and thereby ‘buried’.
A quick recap. Said review was instigated after persistent rumours that at least four, and possibly more, Premiership clubs had been routinely ignoring in recent seasons the self-imposed agreed total salary cap that can be expended on players. About a month before the end of last season leaks to the media revealed that, although the two alleged ‘main offenders’ definitely had cases to answer, as indeed had perhaps a number of others, Premiership Rugby was ‘delaying’ the report because both ‘main offenders’ were involved in the imminent Premiership play-offs (ultimately they went on to play each other in the Final and Saracens won) and to do so – and/or indeed impose sanctions – might undermine the integrity of the entire Premiership season drawing to its close. There were also strong attendant rumours that the ‘main offenders’ were making legal threats about the findings.
Now – as of last week – Premiership Rugby has attempted to bury the bad news in a lead canister at about a similar depth to that at which the nuclear energy industry traditionally deposits its toxic waste. ‘Settlements’ have apparently been reached with the ‘main offenders’ but the details of these, and indeed the names of said offenders, must remain confidential for legal reasons. Immediately this was publicised just one club (Wasps) has so far commendably come out and stated that it was not involved in the scandal in any respect.
Hopefully soon more clubs, including Quins, will follow suit – and I’m conscious here that, as the perpetrators of the infamous ‘Bloodgate’ scandal, we are not exactly the sole custodians of the moral high ground in such matters.
However, if sport is to mean anything, it has to retain a certain core integrity based around the fundamental principles that ‘what you see is what you get’ and that, at the bottom line, the contest or event is being played on what is called a level playing field.
I’m not a complete idiot, nor a naïve idealist. We know that too often – in soccer’s Premiership and in Formula One, for example – there are the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ and that a wide chasm exists between them. It would be foolhardy not to accept this as a fact of life.
To conclude, I am horrified – and perhaps angrier than Conor O’Shea over the outcome of last week’s game against Leicester Tigers – about the way in which its authorities have dealt with the Premiership salary cap scandal.
More power to the elbows, therefore, of rugby columnists Owen Slot (of The Times) and Mick Cleary (of The Telegraph) who continue their lonely and courageous crusades to ‘tell it like it is’ and turn the spotlight upon lack of proper integrity and principles regularly exhibited by the actions of both the Premiership and the RFU.
For ‘pay wall’ reasons, sadly I cannot here provide a link to Mr Slot’s latest excellent piece on the Premiership salary cap shenanigans, but here is one to Mick Cleary’s Monday blast at the RFU and the Premiership, which is also worth a read – THE TELEGRAPH