Another great round of Premiership rugby at the weekend: three of the relegation contenders earned much needed victories, the top two in the league both lost and the midtable became more congested than ever. Here are three talking points.
Everyone still has something to play for
Those arguing the Premiership should be ringfenced and promotion and relegation abolished – as Ed Alexander has done in his excellent article this week – need look no further than the Leicester Tigers/Newcastle Falcons game on Friday night for the counter argument. It was fiery, frantic and altogether thrilling game, ending 27-22 to the Tigers after the Falcons were unable to find a way through to the tryline at the death. If there were no relegation, games like this wouldn’t carry the same importance – with everything on the line, it became an exhilarating contest.
For my two-cents, the only solution to this debate is, and always has been, for the RFU and Premiership clubs, and all this sponsorship and investment money, to invest some into the Championship, with a view to growing it into a viable second tier league. The news that Yorkshire Carnegie are moving to become semi-professional only heightens the disparity between the two leagues and while that remains the case, relegation will be viewed as the apocalypse for Premiership clubs, while those outside the established set will not be able to make the step up.
But beyond the relegation debate, what is so good at the moment is that right across the league, every team has something to play for – whether it is securing a more favourable home semi-final, making the playoffs, or Champions versus Challenge Cup, there are high stakes on every match, as each result sees the table drastically revise itself. We were discussing Bristol as relegation candidates last week, but they could be in the Champions Cup by the end of the season.
This is what keeps the league from fizzling out in the final throws. The next three rounds of the Premiership should be some of the most enjoyable in memory.
Great game management or against the spirit of rugby?
Amidst the mayhem of that Tigers v Falcons game, there was an interesting flashpoint. George Ford stood completely stock still ahead of taking his conversion, eking every second out his allotted 90 and indeed the game, so he could run down the clock, giving Newcastle less time to return fire. It got to the bizarre situation of the referee acting as a countdown, shouting just how few seconds Ford had before he eventually kicked it over.
Did it have a material impact? Perhaps. We will never really know. But it certainly felt a little awkward and not in the spirit of the game. There is that argument that it was just smart game management. Is it any different to taking a quick drop goal if there is some contention over whether a try was scored to deny a TMO review? Or celebrating that you scored a try to convince the referee when the reality is you know you may have dropped it? I will leave that for you to debate below.
One thing I might suggest is to stop the referee being a clock for the player – they get one thirty-second warning and that is it. The uncertainty and threat of running out of time will cut out time-wasting of this kind pretty sharpish.
Rucks are an accident waiting to happen
Something seriously needs to be done about rucking. Players are flying into the breakdown with complete disregard for the laws – last week we may have seen a red card for Tom Youngs, but again, across all the games, there were some reckless clear outs into the contact area. Toby Flood was on the receiving end of one in the Friday night game, but it feels like this is an area where we are just waiting for a serious injury to happen.
This is not as example of ‘the game has gone soft’ (some of the legal and fair collisions put that argument quickly to bed), but the way the game is being policed, and the abolition of old-fashioned rucking, mean players are at risk when they go over the ball and are essentially a free hit for the clearing player. This needs to be addressed sooner rather than later or we will all be looking back with regret when something serious occurs.
By Henry Ker