Adam Hathaway, rugby correspondent of The People, reports back from an eventful weekend in Clermont, on and off the field, and reveals, not-so-exclusively, that you have to warm up before you play rugby……
Dylan Hartley divides opinion and on Saturday he was at it again when he was sin-binned after 30 minutes of Northampton’s 24-7 Champions Cup defeat to Clermont.
Jamie George or Hartley to start for the autumn internationals, should a bloke with a charge sheet as long as your arm be skipper of England and all the rest of it. They were all flying around as soon as Hartley trotted off.
And good old Dylan, who is actually a good bloke despite the public perception of him being some sort of desperado, has raised those questions yet again.
One fact.
The England captain took out Clermont prop Rabah Slimani, a misnomer if ever there was one, with a flying arm tackle at a ruck where Slimani did not even seem to be part of it. Yellow should be the end of it.
The press box at the Stade Marcel Michelin was divided. Some thought red, some thought yellow, some thought prison or even an extended stay in the nick, in French Guiana, made famous by the 1973 flick Papillon which starred Dustin Hoffman and Steve McQueen.
The crowd at the ground though were screaming for Hartley to be ejected from the premises ASAP.
Hartley only got a yellow and Slimani had a retributional crack at him when he came back which could also have red, yellow or prison. Yellow it was for the Clermont man.
Once the tempers had calmed it took Benjamin Kayser, the French hooker, and Hartley’s opposite number in a game when a few fists were flying, to put it into perspective.
Rugby is walking a tight rope at the moment. Whilst concussion is a massively important subject you sometimes get the feeling that a few people would be happy if the game reverted to touch.
Kayser, thankfully, is not one of those people.
He told us: “It is a physical game and we need to be harsh on the serious offences for the health and safety of the players. But it must not be taken too far.
“The last thing that we want is to start saying ‘it was a cheap shot’. We are not football. We are just here to play hard and to keep on going. I don’t think it was a red card, just a yellow.
“It is a sport where we are fortunate enough to be able to talk to referees and have decent relations. There is nothing better than a referee turning round and asking the opposition captain whether a player deserved a red card. Most of the guys would say: ‘Listen, it is nothing.’ We are not idiots and we are not cheats.”
That shouldn’t happen but it is a decent point and almost incredibly articulate from a front-rower.
One of my colleagues reckoned that Hartley should have walked the plank.
Jim Mallinder, the Northampton director of rugby, got it about right though.
He said: “When you come to a place like this, and when you are playing top level rugby, you have got to be physical in your clear-outs and you have to stay on your feet. You can’t go diving off your feet and Dylan just needed to stay up there.
“There is no intention there – he was clearing out but he should have stayed on his feet.”
But sure enough, on Monday night we got the inevitable email from the Champions Cup organisers that Hartley would be up before the beak in the middle of the week and another round of disciplinary bingo would take place.
Hartley was off his feet, no doubt, but your correspondent is not in the string him-up brigade. The fact that Clermont effectively won the game when they scored their second try when Hartley was off the pitch was probably punishment enough. Joe Marler, who was also yellow-carded in Harlequins’ defeat by Wasps on Sunday is also in the dock.
The Hartley incident took the gloss off what was a monumental rugby weekend in one of the game’s cathedrals. This was RugbySpy’s first visit to the Stade Marcel Michelin and it didn’t disappoint.
One of our colleagues told us that the ground was brilliant but the town did not have a lot about it. I don’t know which town he stayed in but the place was rocking on Saturday.
The stadium itself only holds 19,022 but it felt like there were double that number in there, mostly in yellow, and that probably did not help Hartley’s cause when they wanted him lynched in the main square.
More importantly just off the main square in Clermont Ferrand, Place de Jaude, is a perfect place for a bit of pre-match nosh.
It is called Le Clair Mont, you can see what they have done there, and it serves a tidy bit of carnard and steaks frites.
The waiter, who received a massive bung from Fleet Street’s finest for his efforts, also produced a bottle of local fire water which we assumed we should just have a nip of as some sort of digestif. He told us the whole lot had to go and gallantly the hacks did the business before tottering off to the ground.
And if you have not been there – you should stick it on your bucket list.
There is an Aussie bar, in Place de Jaude, that shows 24/7 sport and another gaff about 50 metres away where we even witnessed Northampton players such as Tom Wood and Luther Burrell having a chat with the travelling fans. It will never catch on.
But the big story was Hartley. It will always be about Hartley and that took the shine off a classic weekend.
To all the George supporters – and I am neutral on this one – Hartley had a good game. Courtney Lawes put in a monumental day’s work – yet again this season – but the hooker did what he had to do.
He hit his jumpers but had a mare in the scrum because of a couple of weak props next to him but did what he should have done around the paddock apart from the incident with the not-so-slim Slimani.
And now we have the random number generator that is the biscuit-munching disciplinary blazers deciding on the future of the England captain with games against Argentina, Australia to come and something called the Six Nations kicking off in February.
Mallinder called it and Kayser called it even better. Let’s get on with the game but you can bet your bottom dollar the suits will have their call.
In short, it was a technical screw-up by Hartley and thanks to Kayser for making it clear. He was on the pitch after all, the rest of us were not. The off the pitch stuff was great though.
**
This week’s award for stating the bleeding obvious goes to the combined brains trust of the University of Bath and England Rugby.
Published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine some boffins have reported that warming up before games helps to prevent injury. Well knock me down with a feather.
This is not all micky-taking. For once, honest.
There are a new set of limbering up exercises to help the bloke and girl who turn out for Old Pintonians after a night on the sauce for a run around Hackney Marshes.
According to the blurb ‘The Activate warm-up regime focuses on balance, strength and agility in order to better prepare players for the physical challenges they face in matches and to mitigate potential injury risks. Split into four stages it takes roughly 20 minutes to complete.’
It goes on and on…….. ‘This new programme is markedly different from the kind of warm-up players might typically take part in during training or pre-match with a much greater focus on movement control. Combining the impressive results on injury reduction with the national roll-out of this programme with England Rugby, we are particularly excited by the potential for this work in making a long-term impact on the game.’
If it stops a builder, librarian or plumber losing some pay after helping them avoid injury in their Saturday afternoon run-out then fair enough.
Maybe someone ought to tell the professional teams about it. Most clubs’ medical rooms look like something out of MASH at the moment. All you kids out there should Google it.