Adam Hathaway, rugby correspondent of The People, wants officials to get on with the game and stop taking extended screen breaks and records a first win for Stuart Lancaster who is back in the game…finally.
There was plenty to like at Allianz Park on Saturday when Saracens beat Northampton 27-12 – apart from the fact the match went on too long – it proved you really can have too much of a good thing. And this was a good thing.
It was a proper game and the physical commitment was off the scale – personified by Luther Burrell who ended up being carted off in an ambulance with an oxygen mask draped over his face after a sickening collision with Brad Barritt’s thigh.
Northampton gave it a right old rattle for the first 50 minutes – the first team to get under the champions’ skin this season – with Louis Picamoles, Tom Wood and Courtney Lawes all in full war paint.
Last week we asked if anyone was going to give Saracens a game, but they got one here alright, but if the officials had had their way they would still be playing now, and most of the crowd would be in their pyjamas and worrying about how they are going to get work any time before November or in time for the office Christmas party.
Saracens got home by scoring 12 points when Saints had prop Alex Waller sinbinned and were hoodwinked by a cute line-out move when they were down to 14 men. A man light, and worried about defending a driving maul, Northampton were outwitted when Saracens played a short line-out that ended up with Jamie George running over for the score that cracked open the match.
Shortly afterwards Northampton were done when they could not defend a driving maul and conceded a penalty try – and that was pretty much that in terms of the match.
But by the time the game finished it was just after 5.06pm, from a 3pm kick-off, thanks to the endless viewing of clips by officials which had some supporters jeering or pressing the snooze button.
Waller’s tackle on George, that earned him 10 minutes in the cooler, was viewed by the referee Greg Garner – who was otherwise on pretty decent form – about 10 times before he brandished the card. There are also various people in the box to watch the clips so it should be a quick glance, make a decision and then get on with your life.
Do you have to look at something 10 times in your day job to make sure a decision is right or if there has been skulduggery committed? If your average worker did they would be getting your cards from the boss pretty sharpish.
Haven’t these people got homes to go to?
There were 9,455 fans in the ground who could see the tackle was dangerous and deserved a quick yellow, once Garner had seen that Waller had not head-butted his opposite number which would have been a straight red. But no, we got endless replays which ate up the minutes and probably had the broadcasters worrying about what time the game was meant to finish.
You want to get the correct decisions but it doesn’t take nearly a dozen looks at a clip to see if an offence has been committed. If it does then the blokes who are doing it are in the wrong job.
According to the Guinness Book of Records the longest rugby match, staged in South Africa, lasted a shade over 27 hours. Much more of this in the Premiership though and you will be booking Monday off work after going to a Saturday match.
Rugby is an 80-minute game, with a bit of injury time added on and a break for a quick fag and a pint at half-time for the fans, so to have it stretching into more than two hours is bonkers. Just like slow over rates are the bane of cricket and slow play the bane of golf, these endless interruptions are a curse on rugby and need to be given the red card.
It has not always been like this. Video referees have only been used to finger foul-play perpetrators since 2003, although the old players glory in what they used to get away with back in the day. That is probably not a good thing but the current situation is a bad thing.
Now you get the interminable spectacle of the referee on the pitch watching the big screen about a zillion times, with the TMO in his box, whilst the pair of them try to work out what has happened.
This does not make good viewing for the crowd. They have made their mind up, one way or another, within seconds of seeing the first bit of footage and it usually leads to the officials copping dogs’ abuse.
The ref could at least run to the side of the pitch and have a gander at the incident on an I-Pad, other tablets are available, and then make up their minds. With the crowds on their back they would get it done quickly and the rest of us would be spared the current farce.
A couple of years’ ago the press were given a briefing by Wayne Barnes, one of the top whistlers around, who told us this sort of delay would be stamped out.
Sure enough Barnes refereed the first game of the season, a 7.45pm Friday night kick-off, and it was done and dusted by 9.30pm. That makes it easier for punters to get home and, as an aside, helps sports editors get the papers off stone with most having a 9.45pm edition deadline on weekend nights.
One favourite conspiracy theory of mine is that late kick-offs, especially for European games, very rarely finish late if the host TV company has to get off and switch to the Spanish football or some other nonsense.
But all of that went by the by at the weekend.
Just get on with it – if an incident needs more than two looks then there is probably not much in it and isn’t that what citing officers are for?
Most of the really serious offences are only picked up after the match anyway. Just ask Chris Ashton.
Last weekend marked the first anniversary of the start of the biggest catastrophe, in playing terms, in English rugby history.
Hosting the World Cup, England beat Fiji but we all know what happened next as the campaign went from bad to excruciating and finally out the exit door after the defeat to Australia.
Twelve months on it is almost like it never happened. England are 10 from 10, if you count the last pool match against Uruguay, have nailed a Grand Slam for the first time since 2003 and beaten Australia 3-0 down under.
Eddie Jones is the flavour of the month but this time a year ago so was Stuart Lancaster – England were going to bring the bacon home in a home tournament and it would be knighthoods, MBEs and open-top bus rides all round.
It didn’t quite work out like that, but it looks like Lancaster has finally got a break. After being linked with jobs like Toulon and Queensland Reds he has got a gig where he can sail under the radar a bit and get back to what he enjoys most – coaching.
All his England coaching staff have got new jobs – Andy Farrell with Ireland, Mike Catt with Italy and Graham Rowntree with Harlequins – but the head honcho was tainted by the World Cup and looked as if he was damaged goods.
But a couple of weeks’ ago Lancaster slipped, reasonably quietly, into a post at Leinster. His remit is defence but with his experience of coaching an international team the Leinster head coach Leo Cullen would be nuts not to draw on his know-how.
Lancaster has gone from one sleeping giant to another – Leinster have sunk since the glory days of Brian O’Driscoll and three European Cups – and you would have to have a heart of stone not to wish him all the best.
His first match on the firm was a 33-25 defeat to Glasgow but this weekend Leinster beat Edinburgh 33-10 in the third round of the Pro12, at Murrayfield, and they are currently fifth in the table behind the high-flying Ospreys.
It is probably not how Lancaster, and his former bosses at Twickenham, hoped it would turn out but after what has been the longest year of his life he is back – and good luck to him.