1. Derby day disgrace
The West Country derby is one of the great games in the sport – the emotion, the tradition, the rivalry, it is all part and parcel of a great fixture. The game is always full-blooded, but usually manages to stay on the right side of the law. Enter Tavis Knoyle. Something clearly got under the bonnet of Gloucester’s reserve scrum half as he let loose several blows on Bath no.8 Leroy Houston to take a game that always simmers to full blown boiling over. You had to feel for referee Tim Wigglesworth – yes, he may have been overly pedantic on previous occasions in a game that was never allowed to flow, but to the letter of the law he got most of the decisions right. Knoyle and Puafisi find out their fates today – the former, at least, can expect a fairly sizeable ban for what looked like an unprovoked attack on Houston.
2. The importance of a home semi-final
Northampton’s comeback to grab a losing bonus point at Allianz Park could prove to be vital. Saracens have all but locked down top spot, so it is likely to be a straight shoot-out between the Saints and the Tigers for the second home semi-final spot, and while Northampton did beat Saracens away at that stage last year, that was an anomaly, not the rule. The Tigers, too, would travel to Franklin’s Gardens having already won there this season, but will still desperately want to be at home. Three points ahead and with a preferable run-in, the ball is very much in the Saints’ court.
3. Nervous Newcastle
Newcastle look to be playing as if they decided long ago that they had done enough to stay up. Had a couple of Worcester’s near misses gone in their favour in recent months, the Falcons would have slipped to bottom spot – that is how poorly they are playing. Basic errors and what looked like a lack of desire let them down again against London Irish, who completely blew them away. This is the team sitting above them in table, as well, not one of the top four. To concede so many points and tries to the team one spot above you does not scream that you belong in this league. They should still have done enough to keep themselves up, but with a sensible outlook on transfers unlikely to see them sign many big names and moneybags Bristol gunning for promotion, next season they may not be so lucky.
4. Propping up the bench
Amongst the brawls and sendings-off at Kingsholm there was another unwelcome sight for the final third of the match – uncontested scrums. After replacement loosehead Sia Puafisi was sent off, Gloucester argued they had no one capable of playing there, despite Dan Murphy, who had done so for London Irish, sitting on the timber. Scrums might be messy and half the time we might not really have a clue what is going on in there, but they are a cornerstone of the game and when they are uncontested the game starts to look a lot like sevens. The replacement laws were changed to avoid precisely scenarios like this, and while they are undoubtedly less commonplace than they used to be, it would be worth looking at further changes to eradicate them completely.
5. Scrap for seventh
With the details of next season’s European competitions being confirmed this week, seventh place has all of a sudden taken on new-found importance. With the top six – the old Heineken Cup places – confirmed, there wouldn’t have been a great deal left to play for for Exeter, Wasps and Gloucester over the course of the last three games. But with the seventh-placed team now entering a play-off game to take one of the last spots in next season’s European Rugby Champions Cup, they will all be desperate to finish there. Three points separate the teams so any one could technically still make it, but it certainly lends greater importance to this weekend’s ‘The Stinger’ between Wasps and Gloucester at Twickenham. What would previously have been a fun day out and no doubt an entertaining game of rugby suddenly has serious implications for the league – which is no bad thing.
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images