Red cards are saving the game… it is short-term ruin for long-term salvation
- Danny Cipriani was sent off for Gloucester in their weekend clash with Munster
- The decision was harsh and, while it angered some, it was accepted by Cipriani
- Billy Twelvetrees was lucky to escape the same punishment for a high tackle
- Rugby needs uniformity in what is supposedly a zero-tolerance crackdown
The first instinct is still to feel a sense of outrage at the prospect of another game being wrecked by a red card. But then comes an acceptance that it has to be this way. There is no choice.
Danny Cipriani was sent off during the first half of Gloucester’s Heineken Champions Cup clash with Munster in Limerick on Saturday – harshly, by any reasonable measure. He was standing upright as Rory Scannell carried the ball into him, and was more passive than aggressive when the collision occurred, but the playmaker’s shoulder connected with Scannell’s head.
He knew what was coming. Cipriani was duly sent off and instead of raging at the injustice, he just checked that his opponent was okay and jogged off. The response was to his credit, as rugby’s inner turmoil over this divisive subject was already rearing its head again as a result of the incident.
Danny Cipriani (left) was sent off for Gloucester in their clash with Munster on Saturday
The Gloucester fly-half was given his marching orders during the Champions Cup showdown
England No 8 Billy Vunipola, watching the match on TV, tweeted: ‘Another game ruined! Unlucky everyone who bought tickets.’
Shortly after Cipriani was dismissed, Billy Twelvetrees escaped the same fate, despite what appeared to be greater intent as he hit Joey Carbery high. This is the main problem; a lack of uniformity in what is supposedly a zero-tolerance crackdown.
Over in France, meanwhile, Castres No 8 Maama Vaipulu was sent off for a shoulder smash to the head of Luke Cowan-Dickie and that decision was utterly justified.
It must be hoped that the judiciary find a glaring distinction between Cipriani’s ‘offence’, which his head coach, Johann Ackermann, understandably lamented as an accident – and the unacceptable behaviour of Vaipulu. But there has to be a shift in attitudes across the board. It’s just going to take time to take effect.
England No 8 Billy Vunipola took to Twitter to vent his frustration at the refereeing decision
Castres No 8 Maama Vaipulu was sent off for a shoulder smash to head of Luke Cowan-Dickie
The sport is being ruined and saved at the same time. It is short-term ruin for long-term salvation. It is quite reasonable human nature to lament the first part of the process and rejoice in the second. The irony is that the players themselves may be the ones who take most convincing that this process is required, to diminish the shadow of concussion.
Vunipola’s response was reflective of a consensus among the game’s protagonists, who embrace and relish the physicality of their profession. The irony is that players may find a safer and sanitised version of rugby less appealing but if that is the case, so be it. Fewer of them will be forced into premature retirement or suffer life-long health consequences.
It has to be this way. Go low and stay on.
Eddie Jones was booed at Wasps on Saturday. Why? It would have made sense if had been staunch Gloucester fans in the Shed aiming their derision at the England head coach, for leaving Cipriani out of his squad for England’s autumn campaign next month.
But Wasps? It felt like panto season came early in Coventry. When the home club’s banned No 8 Nathan Hughes appeared on the big screen, he was cheered. So the hero role had been filled, which meant Jones had to take on the part of the villain. He didn’t seem to mind.
England head coach Eddie Jones was booed while watching Wasps face Bath on Saturday
Welsh referee Nigel Owens was widely praised for defending rugby’s moral code on Saturday night – by ordering Racing’s Irish full-back, Simon Zebo, to apologise to Ulster counterpart Michael Lowry, for mocking him as he scored a try for the hosts in Paris.
In truth, it was mild; all Zebo did was point a finger in his opponent’s direction before he scored.Players are goading each other regularly these days and it is unseemly at times, but Zebo’s was by no means the worst such offence and, frankly, the sport has far more pressing issues to worry about.
In politics, there is Brexit. In rugby, how long until Frexit? There has always been a certain amount of French apathy towards European competition – as their league is such a primary priority – but this season, in the absence of Clermont Auvergne, the problem has been heightened, although Toulouse provided a grand exception.
Crowd trouble has spilled over from the Challenge Cup into the Champions Cup; as in, trouble attracting a crowd. In France it is especially pronounced, but the problem exists across the Channel too.
Parts of Welford Road were alarmingly empty on Friday night, while even mighty Munster couldn’t fill Thomond Park, which would have been unthinkable not so long ago. Staggered kick-off times and saturated TV coverage are damaging attendances.
Parts of Welford Road were alarmingly empty on Friday night for Leicester Tigers vs Scarlets
Good luck to Christian Wade. This column sincerely hopes that he makes the grade in the NFL, in the face of overwhelming odds. If he doesn’t, rugby should take him back with open arms. The departed Wasps wing deserved more from the game than just one England cap.
He was a try-scoring, turbo-charged, box-office phenomenon in a diminutive frame. The old cliche about spectators being on the edge of their seats really applied to Wade. It is a shame for rugby that he felt he didn’t really fit in. Americans will be lucky to have him.
Heineken Champions Cup Team of the Week
15 T Ramos (Toulouse)
14 T Thomas (Racing 92)
13 M Tuilagi (Leicester)
12 J Williams (Newcastle)
11 M Medard (Toulouse)
10 F Russell (Racing 92)
9 G Davies (Scarlets)
1 Z Zhvania (Wasps)
2 K Cooper (Newcastle)
3 C Faumuina (Toulouse)
4 C Ewels (Bath)
5 T Beirne (Munster)
6 M Itoje (Saracens)
8 V Mata (Edingburgh)
7 T Young (Wasps)
Try of Week podium
GOLD – Ashley Johnson for Wasps; rounding off a long-range masterpiece.
SILVER – Teddy Thomas for Racing, thanks to more sorcery from Finn Russell.
BRONZE – Maro Itoje for Saracens, with a stunning steal and 50m gallop.
Eddie Jones was heavily wrapped up against the autumn chill at Welford Road on Friday night, but he would have left Leicester glowing from the sight of Manu Tuilagi in vintage, rampaging form for the Tigers.
When Itoje scored against Lyon, Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall actually clapped. The camera captured it.
Normally, the Ulsterman maintains a poker face or a grimace, so he must have been mightily impressed.
Joe Cokanasiga is building up his own eye-catching highlights reel this season and the giant Bath wing added another memorable clip in the draw against Wasps, by showing power and dexterity to drive, twist, stretch and score.
Toulon are in disarray. The former kings of Europe shipped 40 points at Edinburgh and owner Mourad Boudjellal asked for a suspended five-point penalty against his club to be imposed now. Yet, at this rate, they may not acquire that many this season.
It didn’t take long for the Splash Ash to arrive at the AJ Bell Stadium. Sale fans had waited patiently for Chris Ashton’s competitive debut and he delivered in style, with a hat-trick capped by the trademark high dive.
Chris Ashton marked his competitive bow for Sale Sharks with a hat-trick of tries this weekend
While Rhys Webb is stuck on a sinking ship at Toulon, perhaps wondering if it was worth trading in his World Cup ambitions after all, at least Wales won’t be short of a stellar scrum-half in his absence.
Gareth Davies was magnificent for the Scarlets in a losing cause at Leicester, showing his pace and nous, tenacity and timing. What a player he’s become. Meanwhile, poor Thomas Young remains out of Warren Gatland’s plans at Wasps.
He has been superb since returning from injury, but his misfortune is to be around in an era when Test-class Welsh opensides seem to grow on trees.
Gareth Davies was magnificent for the Scarlets in a losing cause at Leicester on Friday night
Bath owner Bruce Craig has reportedly written to EPCR – organisers of the European tournaments – to demand a re-match against Toulouse, on the grounds that his club were harshly treated by the referee.
Remarkably, the letter was not dated April 1. This is beyond ludicrous. What happens if they lost the re-match; would he go through the footage, identify an injustice and ask for a third go?
And presumably, if EPCR were to give in to his demands, which they rightly won’t, he would give all gate receipts to charity, or to his over-worked players – forced to fit another fixture into the packed calendar?
There is a serious credibility issue for the club game if those in high office within it behave like pupils in the playground.
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