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Sporting issues this weekend

The narrow victory of Northampton Saints (32/31) over Harlequins was enthralling, confirming my view that the most enjoyable sport currently on offer is to be found in the Rugby Premiership.

This is subject to one caveat: the uncontested scrum.

I checked the rationale for this with Derek Williams. He explained that there is considerable thrust from the props and it can happen that both are injured and one side has no like-for-like replacements once they are all injured.

In these circumstances the referee – as he did in this game – will order for health and safety reasons the scrums to be uncontested.

This in effect renders the scrum meaningless.

Derek further explained that if one side is getting out-muscled in the scrum it might suit them very well for these to become uncontested.

I do not believe Northampton did so and they deserved their win with scintillating play but it was noteworthy that they looked exhausted in the second half so the uncontested scrum did suit them better.

We also saw the odd spectacle of Marcus Smith lining up in the back row.

I said to Derek that as soon as new regulation is in place then slyly it will be manipulated.

We have seen this in rugby and football when the substitution rule was introduced but originally only for injuries.

In both sports players feigned injury under tactical orders in order to be replaced.

All right, a spinal injury in a scrum could lead to permanent crippling but it’s a physical game and two mighty packs going at each other is part and parcel of rugby.

One sport where physical safety is a huge issue is boxing.

Watching the superb Ken Burns eight-part documentary on Muhammad Ali, I re-saw the “Thrilla  in Manila” between Ali and Joe Frazier and never have witnessed such brutality in the ring.

You will recall that, against Frazier’s wishes, his cornerman Eddie Futch ordered Frazier to throw in the towel in the fourteenth round.

Ali was urinating blood for weeks afterwards and his physical decline started with this bout.

Nonetheless it was the most epic of fights and – though Ali should not have taunted Frazier so mercilessly – he later recanted over this treatment.

The Ali in his 30s who rope-a-doped George Foreman had to marshal his resources more cannily than the quicksilver Clay of his twenties.

Football referees stop the game where there is a head injury.

In the Fulham v Nottingham Forest game, the home side was infuriated when the referee did so.

Leeds United, under Don Revie, would regularly break up the flow of a game by their players feigning injury.

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About Tom Hollingworth

Tom Hollingsworth is a former deputy sports editor of the Daily Express. For many years he worked in a sports agency, representing mainly football players and motor racing drivers. Tom holds a private pilot’s licence and flying is his principal recreation. More Posts