1. Frustrating inconsistencies
Everyone agrees that the TMO has been hugely overused this season. The sight of a superb, length of the field try not being given straight away while the referee goes back to check a forward pass from five phases ago has become a real blight on the game. There are, however, occasions when the use of the TMO is completely justified. For example, when a player is accused of an offence as serious as eye-gouging. This happened to Justin Melck at Welford Road on Saturday – the touch judge alleged he had gouged Leicester hooker Neil Briggs, and referee Greg Garner duly sent him off. It has since emerged that there was no such gouge, and Melck’s red card has been overturned. But he missed almost a whole half of rugby, when a simple check would have proved no foul play occured. When the TMO is so overused, why was it not on this occasion?
2. Warriors do for Davies
Worcester v Gloucester was a game of two teams who had categorically underwhelmed this season. The Warriors have been particularly poor, given pre-season investments and their new coach, so when they beat the Cherry and Whites on the final day of the season, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back in the eyes of the Gloucester hierarchy. Director of Rugby Nigel Davies was sacked, and defence coach Paul Moriarty has gone too. When you consider that they conceded an average of 24 points per game, it is hardly surprising. Many people tipped Gloucester for big things this season, but what turned out to be a powder puff front five (until Sia Puafisi arrived to steady the ship a bit) and an alarming loss of form from key players has seen them finish closer to the relegation candidates than the top four, where they want to belong. How much of this is Davies’ fault? It’s debatable, but he probably should have spotted his pack’s deficiencies before the season began – the irony of it is that next season they will have several world class players in their front five, and if they recruit a quality 10 to replace Freddie Burns (the 2013 vintage) they will be a force to be reckoned with.
3. What hooking crisis?
Hartley and Webber injured, Tom Youngs on compassionate leave – it seemed as though England had a crisis at hooker. The form of the likely replacements for the New Zealand tour, however, will have allayed many of Stuart Lancaster’s fears. Luke Cowan-Dickie was a pillar of power for Exeter as he bundled over for a try against the Falcons, Dave Ward continued his astonishing season with a typically energetic performance for Quins against Bath, while Jamie George captained a Saracens side containing no more than three first team regulars to the brink of a win at Welford Road, of all places. They even had 14 men for the best part of the second half. They are all raw, but they are all talented and in form – and that will have encouraged Lancaster.
4. When it matters
Bath have played well all season – they have sat in the top four for all but one week of it, in fact. When it finally mattered, however, it was Harlequins that timed their run to perfection, winning five in a row to leapfrog them into the play-offs. Those five wins included three over teams sat close to them in the table – Sale, Leicester and Bath themselves. The men from the West Country just haven’t quite managed to do the same – a failure to put away the close games has defined their season. Losses home and away to Sale and Saracens, the inability to finish games off against Northampton and Leicester… it has seen them get close without managing to make the final step. It has still been a hugely positive season for them, however, and if Bruce Craig resists the temptation to make wholesale changes they have a fantastic foundation upon which to build a side that will get over that final hurdle next season.
5. Under the radar
James O’Connor arrived in the Premiership to great fanfare. How would one of rugby’s most notorious badboys fit in? Could he resist the temptation of all the distractions London has to offer? In the end, he has stayed well out of trouble (some dodgy Sky adverts aside), as he said he would. There have been flashes of his brilliance on the pitch, such as his role in one of London Irish’s tries at the weekend, but for the most part he has largely sailed under the radar both on and off the pitch. He’s off to Toulon now for a brief stint before heading back to Australia, allegedly to the ailing Reds, and for all his misdemeanours let’s hope he can get back to making the headlines for his rugby again.
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images