Best of the Weekend: Leicester and Saracens to meet in the final

 

Premiership Semi-Finals serve up plenty of drama

Let’s start by putting the drama of the weekend to one side and focus on the rugby. Because unfortunately, the officiating of certain incidents and a flurry of punches have overshadowed what were two very intense, draining semi-finals for the four teams concerned.

Leicester reached their seventh successive Premiership final after beating local rivals Northampton 11-3 at Welford Road. The sole try of the game fell to the top try scorer of the season Alesana Tuilagi, whose trademark strength saw him trample over Bruce Reihana for the score that sealed the game. Northampton targeted Toby Flood earlier on based on the previous success that both Ireland and Leinster had at shutting down the England fly-half, with a few late hits to rough him up a bit. And for a while it worked. Northampton were so clinical against Perpignan but whilst the French side misfired, Leicester were on the money.

The famed trio of Soane Tonga’huia, Dylan Hartley and Brian Mujati came unstuck against the Leicester front-row. When you think scrums, you think of the Tigers, and they kept their reputation intact by dismantling the strong Northampton pack. You don’t often see Tonga’huia slumping away from the scrum shaking his head about being outplayed. In the midfield, Clarke and Downey were not afforded the dominance that they have become used to throughout the season against weaker opposition, with Anthony Allen and Manu Tuilagi’s defence holding strong. It was an excruciatingly frustrating afternoon in attack for the visiting side.

As for the now infamous flurry of punches, there’s no doubting that it was a red card. Well, apart from in the mind of Robin Goodliffe, the touch judge who made the call for both players to be sent to the sin-bin. Assessing it is a tricky one given that Goodliffe confirmed that he definitely saw what happened. So either he lied to Wayne Barnes, and didn’t see it, or he judges a punch that David Haye would be proud of to be fair game. Whichever it is, he shouldn’t expect to referee the final in two weeks time.

As for Saracens, their win over Gloucester sees them head to Twickenham for a repeat of last year’s final. The standard of this game was considerably lower than the one the previous day, with seemingly countless errors committed in the first half as Saracens kept the game a contest by persistently missing their shots at goal. Kicks out on the full, dropped catches, sloppy passing – you name it, Saracens and Gloucester did it. Gloucester’s indiscipline cost them and Owen Farrell eventually punished them, with the young fly half slotting four out of his eight attempts on goal. Still just 19, he showed a lot of guts to keep plugging away, and ultimately win Saracens the match.

Gloucester will be disappointed that after gaining the lead with under ten minutes on the clock following an excellent try from Nicky Robinson from a move that started well within the Cherry & Whites half, they were unable to hang on to their fine margin.  The fact that they finished third in the table is impressive enough in itself, after a terrible start to the season. Losing Paul Doran-Jones and Dave Attwood is a blow to their progression as a side, but I expect big things from them next season.

Incredibly, a second incorrect decision from a touch judge left a mark on the Sunday semi-final as well, with Steve Borthwick sin-binned for the alleged crime of pulling a man down in the lineout, when the television footage quite clearly showed it was an accidental collision. The fact that moments later Jacques Burger escaped being penalized for a very late hit on one of the Gloucester backs was an example of irony in its purest form. Austin Healey’s post-match point on ESPN that perhaps there needs to be an injection of youth into the refereeing setup seemed rash at the time, but on reflection might not be such a bad idea after all.

 

Cheetahs stun the Crusaders as the Reds move clear at the top

The result of the weekend came in Bloemfontein where in the last match of Round 13 of this year’s Super Rugby competition, the Cheetahs overcame the Crusaders by 33 points to 20. Andries Strauss, the Cheetahs inside centre, tweeted after the game how “It just shows that a team with heart can beat any team of superstars”, and he was spot on. The Crusaders may have had the likes of Dan Carter, sporting a rather dodgy moustache, Richie McCaw, Keiran Read and Sonny Bill Williams, and yet the Cheetahs comprehensively outplayed them.

This was mainly down to two brilliant performances from young fly-half Sias Ebersohn and openside Ashley Johnson. Ebersohn, whose twin brother Robert also plays for the province, was deadly accurate with the boot and also sprinted away for a very impressive score down the left hand touchline to put the Cheetahs into a significant lead, stepping Israel Dagg on the way to dotting down. His development over the rest of this year’s competition will be interesting, and the Cheetahs looked to have unearthed a gem in a crucial position. As for Johnson, he’s a sizeable unit but with plenty of pace and soft hands, as his breakaway score and assist for Ebersohn’s try displayed.

Meanwhile over at Suncorp the Reds cemented their position at the top of the Super Rugby log with a very entertaining win over the Blues, with the final score being 37-31. After blitzing into a 24-0 lead thanks to tries from Quade Cooper, Radike Samo and Scott Higginbotham with thirty minutes gone, the Blues hit back and then brought the match to just 27-25 at the start of the second half. But the Reds are maturing into a big game winning side, and they were well steered by Will Genia in particular towards victory. Their clash with the Crusaders at Suncorp in two weeks time will be enormous.

 

Munster and Leinster set to meet in the Magners League Final

The old enemies will fight it out once again as the two Irish provinces contest the Magners League final at Thomond Park in two weeks time. Munster beat the Ospreys 18-11 thanks to two tries from young centre Danny Barnes, whilst Leinster conquered Ulster at the RDS by 18 points to three.

As an outsider to the Magners League, this final seems predictable and is a bit disappointing. The lack of a serious competitor from Wales or Scotland, forgetting Italy for one moment, is lamentable. The Ospreys may have won the title three times since the Celtic league’s creation, but this year they have seemed remarkably off the pace, and with James Hook, Lee Byrne, Marty Holah and Craig Mitchell all set to leave in the summer, their rebuilding process will be intriguing to watch over the summer.

Regarding the final itself, Munster have the advantage of two weeks off following their failure to reach the final of the Amlin Challenge Cup, whilst Leinster face a brutally physical encounter against a wounded Northampton team in Cardiff. The failure in the Amlin may have been cursed by the Munster supporters, but it could well prove to be a big advantage in the hunt for domestic glory.

Try of the weekend goes to Gio Aplon of the Stormers. The winger’s searing pace is no secret, but that doesn’t mean you can stop him. Aplon broke the defensive cover running on a sharp line off Jean de Villiers, before scorching up the pitch stepping three Chiefs defenders as he headed towards the right hand corner. The fastest man in World rugby? Probably.

Hero of the weekend goes to Elton Jantjies of the Lions. All of the headlines this week may have been about Butch James’ return to South African rugby, but after this performance, he may struggle to get the 10 shirt. Jantjies showed brilliant hands to set up two high quality scores for Alwyn Hollenback and Jaco Taute, and landed his kicks at goal to seal the big win for the Lions against the Brumbies, who are yet to win at home this season.

Villain of the weekend? Doesn’t take many guesses really does it. Manu Tuilagi is an outstanding, raw talent still in his first full season of Premiership rugby, and he’s still learning. And he will learn that what he did on Saturday was inexcusable. His season is no doubt over, with his flying fists a black mark on what has been a brilliant breakthrough season.

Click the player below to see the highlights from the weekend, including that Manu Tuilagi punch:


by Ben Coles

38 thoughts on “Best of the Weekend: Leicester and Saracens to meet in the final

  1. You thought it would be Northampton’s back 3 that would cause all the trouble but Tuilangi had a stormer despite those punches…

  2. Just posted this on twitter as well actually, but, for me, yesterday confirmed Jacques Burger as the best flanker in the league this season.

    I think a ban to rule him out of the final is nothing more than a formality, but I’m wondering how this will affect Manu’s chances of getting into the England squad before the World Cup. Chris Ashton’s a pretty popular squad member – any short term integration, which it would have to be for Manu, will now be fairly difficult..

  3. I’m concerned about the effect this could have on Manu’s RWC chances. Will it have knocked him down a peg or two in Johnno’s esteem, on the basis that this sort of incident is unacceptable?

    That said, Johnno was guilty of the odd punch himself, although not with the same flawless technique, so perhaps he’ll put this down to another important learning experience.

    Better to happen now that in the World Cup quarter-final for instance…

  4. I can’t see Manu playing for six months myself. Pre-meditated act of, not one, but, three clean punches to the face of the current England superstar (not that the victim’s status is relevant).

    I would also like to raise the following point. What is worse, experimenting with a class A drug at a social event or punching someone in the face three times? Both highly illegal right? Yet something makes me think that the later is more frowned upon, I’m not convinced that it will be looked at in this way though. Matt Stevens was an idiot and got a two year ban, but I think Manu is more of a ‘criminal’.
    I, for one, don’t want Manu in the squad for the RWC. I think with the RFU clamping down on foreign origin players qualifying anyway (like Hape, which is ridiculous), this act
    I think may solve that problem now.
    I think after the McRae/O’Gara Lions innocent of 2001, this has to he the worst pre-meditated punching ever seen on a rugby pitch in the professional era. The man is trash.

  5. I think trash is a bit harsh, and I’m not sure how pre-meditated it was. He had a push in the back, and then hugely overreacted.

    I may be guilty of rose-tinted glasses because I want to see him in New Zealand, but it was an excellent punch and just happened to land. How many punches are thrown on a rugby field and don’t connect?

    And this isn’t anywhere near as bad as gouging in my view, and we’ve seen people banned for just a few weeks for that heinous offence.

  6. Although I was quite looking forward to seeing Manu break into the England squad, I just can’t see it ever happening now. Johnno doesn’t take kindly to “stupid” players and i think Manu has just thrown away his chance of ever playing for England. On top of that, I personally believe that he should be banned for a least a year for that disgusting violent and dangerous attack on Ashton. There is no place for that in rugby, and just as Matt Stevens was used as an example, I think the RFU have to do the same here. Such a shame as Manu has been such an exciting prospect

  7. “Chris Ashton’s a pretty popular squad member – any short term integration, which it would have to be for Manu, will now be fairly difficult..”

    To be fair though, Manu went up to him at the end, gave him a big hug and had a chat, so I don’t think there’s any bad blood. Stpuid stupid thing to do, he knew it, and was very lucky to only get yellow. No chance of making the WC squad, but given another half season’s development (and good behaviour) he’ll be in next year’s 6Ns squad…

  8. And not to condone what Manu did, but Ashton did shove his head, from behind, which is highly dangerous… All anyone shows is the punches, but not what provoked them.

  9. on the magners major pity ospreys got the 4th spot cardiff blues or scarlets would of given munster a harder challenge, possibly won but the derby munster’s form will go out the window should be a cracker of a final.
    manu’s punch should not get more than six weeks to 8 weeks! he was unlucky if castro hadn’t intercepted the pass would of been a brilliant cover/try saving tackle but it did and now he’s scum and a thug bit harsh! think every one has thrown punches in the moment wish i could throw em as well as that tho.
    Aston has gone up in my regard handled the incident very well no footballer antics like his swan dive would suggest.

  10. Anyone commenting that Ashton provoked him by pushing needs to rewind a few seconds earlier to when Tuilagi did an off the ball dangerously high tackle! That alone merited a yellow card what followed was disgraceful! It should have reduced Leicester to 14 and they are very lucky to be playing in the final at all! He has to be made an example of! Got to give credit to Ashton for taking those punches as they looked like they could have KO’d Mike Tyson!

  11. facts:

    rubbish officiating (which is the basis for whole other thread – wtf are the officials watching?it aint the game.)

    yellow & red card for Manu

    punches are regularly thrown in the professional game (its called red mist – Im not condoning it, its just part of our glorious game).

    manu clearly has some issues, but @ 19 yo, not too late to sort out.

    Manu will play for england (or box in the 2012 olympics)

    Chris ashton is a fantastic player and character

    the rugby community will not overact in the way that the media has.

  12. The officiating made the Manu incident more likely by not clamping down on off-the-ball incidents. Toby Flood was hit late a number of times, in particular by Dylan Hartley with a full-on charge, followed by Flood reacting, at which Barnes gave a penalty and said “Get your timing right”, as was Scott Hamilton by Courtney Lawes. If Barnes had clamped down at that point, the sort of niggle that led to the fight may not have happened, as Ashton would have thought better of reacting.

  13. Ross, Manu nearly took Aston’s head off when he didn’t even have the ball it would have taken a Saint to not react at all to that! Are you really insinuating that it was somehow Aston’s fault?

  14. Manu was obviously a complete disgrace and should be banned for 6 months. The no arm tackle was a yellow, the first 2 punches were both yellows at least and the right hander was a red. Tommy I think it’s a bit strong to say he will never play for England but I think he can wave good bye to the World Cup and rightly so. This was the first really big game of his career and he couldn’t handle it. Yes he’s hugely talented but Johnson is not going to risk someone who the oppo will now obviously try to wind up and who does something like this with almost no provocation. It was an extraordinary incident, really oculdn’t believe my eyes. And the linesman is clearly not fit for purpose. I have a pretty low opinion of linesmen who, both as a player and supporter I have found either shirk big decisions or are upset not to be reffing and keep sticking their oar in at the slightest chance but this was a new low.

    On the rugby side, not sure which game this happened in:

    “The famed trio of Soane Tonga’huia, Dylan Hartley and Brian Mujati came unstuck against the Leicester front-row. When you think scrums, you think of the Tigers, and they kept their reputation intact by dismantling the strong Northampton pack.”

    but it wasn’t the one I was watching. Tonga’huia ate Castro for breakfast in the scrum. It was the lineout which gave Leicester their dominant platform.

  15. Stuart, what i meant was, he’ll probably never play for England while Johnno is in charge. Could be wrong though

  16. WEll spotted stuart, castro got terminated and they had to bring cole on.

    Have to say im not that excited by Leciester v sarries.

    I think cockerill may be suffering under the pressure a la De Villiers!

    Roll on RWC….hutch!

  17. “This was the first really big game of his career”

    Disagree Stuart. Heineken Cup Quarter final faced with Brian O’Driscoll was probably the first.

  18. Have I missed something? Shouldn’t we have heard by now that the citing comission is looking into the incident? Please tell me that they aren’t going to let this slip?

  19. Reports suggest that Manu will be cited, although he hasn’t yet. And apparently, Jon Sleightholme has said he has ‘no chance’ of playing in the World Cup.

    Another former England wing, David Rees, is yet to comment.

  20. Fair enough Tom but the point still stands I think.

    I hear Steve Hanley flew into an uncontrollable rage and fractured a knuckle punching a door frame.

  21. i think it was an absolute discrace what Manu did although he is a very talented player and defenatly someone England should look at for the future when he has matured slightly. It reminds me of when Dylan Hartley used to get wound up an he was left to mature and look at what a great player he is now!

  22. Manu is a talent, no doubt in that. It really seemed as though he might have a chance of playing for England at the RWC, and rightly so. But throwing three punches like that, with intent, especially at one of England’s best players Ashton is totally unacceptable. It’s difficult though, maybe training in the England camp will iron out his creases as it did with Hartley. I have to say, the antics of Cockerill are the most annoying. I mean, look who Manu has got to luck up to. Sort it out!

    For that reason, as a neutral, I hope Sarries win the final. But Manu to score, just so he ends the season on the right note, one he deserves after all his good play.

  23. Manu is a talent, no doubt in that. It really seemed as though he might have a chance of playing for England at the RWC, and rightly so. But throwing three punches like that, with intent, especially at one of England’s best players Ashton is totally unacceptable. It’s difficult though, maybe training in the England camp will iron out his creases as it did with Hartley. I have to say, the antics of Cockerill are the most annoying. I mean, look who Manu has got to luck up to. Sort it out!

    For that reason, as a neutral, I hope Sarries win the final. But Manu to score, just so he ends the season on the right note, one he deserves after all his good play.

  24. Andy Manu scoring will be slightly problematic as there’s more chance of Cockerill playing in the match than him! We’ll see how long a ban he gets today!

  25. Andy Manu scoring will be slightly problematic as there’s more chance of Cockerill playing in the match than him! We’ll see how long a ban he gets today!

  26. Cockerills behaviour was a la football manager and theres no room in our game for that.

  27. The punches were bad. Very bad and he should get some sort of a ban. I just want to say that before I carry on with what will undoubtedly be an unpopular opinion. It is irrelevant who he punched (people seem to be implying because of it being Ashton that his punishment should be worse). I think the fact it was Ashton to me makes perfect sense. Ashton seems to be an abrasive and cocky player (especially when things aren’t going his way). I give you the scuffle with ROG at the end of the six nations Ireland game as a prime example. So the game is going on and Northampton are fairly ruthlessly targeting Toby Flood and hit him with a couple of late tackles and get nothing much but a slap on the wrist as punishment. Leicester are understandably a bit peeved of so Manu hits hard and early on a tackle on Ashton (one of the Northampton talismans) which is no worse than the late tackles on Flood. Ashton being the consummate professional and grown up that he is pushes him in the back of the head. Manu, being still an incredibly young player, retaliates.

    I’m not saying it was the right thing to do. I am saying it was understandable. I’d quite like to punch Ashton 3 times in the face and I only watch the games. Manu should not be left out of the England squad because of it. He is young he’ll get more mature as he goes along. Draw a line under it and carry on. As far as I can see from the pictures Manu and Ashton have.

  28. I completely agree that it doesn’t matter who the player is but disagree on some of you other points. Firstly, Manu’s tackle was worse than those on Flood. The ones on Flood would have been legal had he had the ball. Manu’s tackle would have been illegal anyway because he didn’t use his arms so it was bad on 2 counts. Ashton was also on the wrong end of one from Alessana Tuilagi but that’s by the by.

    Ashton’s reaction was completely understandable in my book. Probably shouldn’t have done it but Flood’s reaction to Hartley’s late tackle was far worse and nobody’s bothered about that. You appear to not be a big fan of Ashton but as you yourself say, the identity of the player involved should not be an issue.

    And personally, I don’t think Tuilagi should be left out because of damage to team morale after what he did to Ashton. They should all be bigger than that. He should be left out until the coaches are convinced that he can handle the pressure of a big game without losing his rag at the slightest provocation. His non-selection would not be a punishment, it would be because he is too much of a risk. It has been suggested that Ashton must have said something offensive to him but given that Tuilagi gave him a hug at the end I think we can rule that out.

    And just a final point on that. On Sky, they said Tuilagi showed great sportsmanship shaking Ashton by the hand. What a complete load of nonsense. The sportsmanship was by Ashton, not Tuilagi. Ashton would have been well within his rights to tell him to sod off. But fortunately rugby is better than that.

  29. I completely agree that it doesn’t matter who the player is but disagree on some of you other points. Firstly, Manu’s tackle was worse than those on Flood. The ones on Flood would have been legal had he had the ball. Manu’s tackle would have been illegal anyway because he didn’t use his arms so it was bad on 2 counts. Ashton was also on the wrong end of one from Alessana Tuilagi but that’s by the by.

    Ashton’s reaction was completely understandable in my book. Probably shouldn’t have done it but Flood’s reaction to Hartley’s late tackle was far worse and nobody’s bothered about that. You appear to not be a big fan of Ashton but as you yourself say, the identity of the player involved should not be an issue.

    And personally, I don’t think Tuilagi should be left out because of damage to team morale after what he did to Ashton. They should all be bigger than that. He should be left out until the coaches are convinced that he can handle the pressure of a big game without losing his rag at the slightest provocation. His non-selection would not be a punishment, it would be because he is too much of a risk. It has been suggested that Ashton must have said something offensive to him but given that Tuilagi gave him a hug at the end I think we can rule that out.

    And just a final point on that. On Sky, they said Tuilagi showed great sportsmanship shaking Ashton by the hand. What a complete load of nonsense. The sportsmanship was by Ashton, not Tuilagi. Ashton would have been well within his rights to tell him to sod off. But fortunately rugby is better than that.

  30. Although I am not a fan of Ashton I do concede that after the needless push he was actually very much the bigger man and didn’t let the whole affair become an all out brawl. The question I ask is after the uninspiring performances of Tindall, Hape and Banahan in the centres for England in the six nations can they afford to leave someone so exciting out for the world cup? But that’s a whole different discussion for a whole other time.

  31. the point here seems to be that “losing your rag” will always be part of rugby,given a part of ones make up has to be slightly bonkers to play the game.

    and, as long as the players are happy with each other and receive the appropriate punishment (bans for a few games for manu) we shouldnt gripe too much.

    There are 2 more worring issues that have come from this:
    1) coaches behaviour – bringing our game into disrepute
    2) inept officials – consistently bad decisions which incorrectly affect outcomes

    as anyone seen glen Jackson (ex sarries) as a touch judge in super rugby? hasnt made a bad decision yet. we need younger ex rugger players who watch and understand the game

    rant over

  32. Agree with you jimmy on the need for new refs that have played the game at a decent level, know the tricks, and apply the rules sensibly. I haven’t watched mutch Super rugby but saw Jackson ref one match and he was superb.

Comments are closed.