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Referees, Schoolboy Dreams and England’s Midfield Question

With the return of the Rugby Championship this week I wanted to look at an issue that rather grated with me in the last round.

Romain Poite received a torrent of abuse for the red card that he showed to Bismarck Du Plessis in South Africa’s defeat by New Zealand, he was absolutely vilified and the blame for South Africa’s defeat appeared to be laid squarely on his shoulders.

What nobody appears to have pointed out is the stupidity of Du Plessis. Yes, his first yellow card should not have been one, Poite has since said so himself, however that was just a yellow and having received a yellow card Du Plessis should have been aware that any further cardable offence would result in him being sent off.

What on earth therefore possessed him to go into contact leading with his elbow into the throat of Liam Messam? Not a single person, so far as I can tell, has disagreed that that was most definitely a yellow card offence.

Why then is Poite receiving such a hard time? Had the cards been the other way around it would make sense but the fact is that while Poite made a mistake over the first yellow, Du Plessis was the one at fault for the second and his was the far greater fault – he knew the risk that he was taking.

Poite is not the only referee to receive this kind of unwarranted vilification, Bryce Lawrence was forced to retire because of it while Alain Rolland and Wayne Barnes have received some pretty vitriolic abuse at times too, and who has not had a little pop at Steve Walsh at some point?

I am not trying to say that referees should be immune from criticism but I do think that at times the rugby world is giving it to the referees when really it is at their own door that the blame sits, as in the case with Messer’s Poite and Du Plessis.

Refereeing issues cropped up in the Aviva Premiership last weekend too when Gloucester beat Northampton with a penalty at the death after referee Martin Fox failed to notice Gloucester player bringing the ball back into the scrum after it had escaped, a scrum that only occurred because the officials failed to notice a number of Gloucester players offside at the kick off following Northampton’s sensational try a few seconds earlier.

It was a bad error and one that cost Northampton the game and rightly Fox was criticised, however the vilification that he received in some quarters was ridiculous. He made a mistake yes, mistakes deserve criticism and work to be rectified, what they do not deserve is abuse.

Jim Mallinder got his response spot on though, effectively saying that while it was a big error if Northampton had played to their potential throughout the game then it simply would not have been an issue.

Spot on, referees will always make mistakes because they are human, like the players. Referees are also one of the biggest uncontrollable factors in a rugby match, the players know this, focus on the things you can control like your own play and nullifying the opposition, and you will find things much easier.

Midweek Schools Fixtures

Luckily the school scene tends to have far fewer cases of vilification of referees, though it was rather galling to see a coach have to be taken aside by a referee this week, and a parent that probably should have been too.

That aside, what this week has reminded me of is of just how special the school rugby arena is. Everything that is good about rugby can be witnessed on school pitches across the country, the camaraderie, the adventurous style of play, crowds who feel, and indeed are, a part of the team – it is fantastic.

Particularly brilliant was the reception for the Radley 1st XV, other pupils created a corridors of supporters for them from the changing rooms to the pitch to cheer them on, it was inspirational stuff, it worked too, Radley scored after just a couple of minutes and went on to win the game.

What my travels around the school scene have also reminded me of is what a privilege a players school years are, watching games at Bedford, Stowe and Radley this week, as well as the brilliant schools I saw last week, I was reminded of just how immaculate the surfaces are, how picturesque the settings are and just how brilliant the facilities are – for many this is as good as it will ever get in a rugby sense, even for those that go further they may still never have facilities so good in some cases, remember to enjoy and savour it, it is a true privilege.

England’s Midfield

With Brad Barritt and Manu Tuilagi both seemingly out of England’s autumn internationals there is a bit of a midfield vacancy for Stuart Lancaster to fill, I am sure that I will look into this in greater depth as the international window approaches but it will be interesting to cast an eye over the potential replacements in the Aviva Premiership and Heineken Cup over the next few weeks.

At the moment my personal view is that Billy Twelvetrees must start at 12, in fact that was view before any injuries but now I cannot see any other justifiable option.

At 13 the options are a little more sparse and a little more offbeat. Some will call for either Kyle Eastmond or Luther Burrell to fill in there, arguments for Eastmond will be particularly strong given his presence in the EPS. I can see the argument, he is after all an exciting talent, however I think that in the absence of the primary options at 13 then the midfield needs to be built around Twelvetrees’ skills, therefore an out and out 13 would be a better option, allowing Twelvetrees to play his natural game.

Henry Trinder is an option, particularly as he plays outside Twelvetrees every week for Gloucester, however I would go for Jonathan Joseph. He has not set the world alight recently but he is a proper outside centre and is capable of some very special things on a rugby field.

I am sure I will to and fro on that opinion over the next few weeks but it will certainly be interesting to see which centres throw their hat in the ring over the coming weeks. Could Eliot Daly make a case for himself, or Joel Tomkins at Saracens, perhaps Jordan Turner Hall or George Lowe at Harlequins might force themselves into the reckoning?

Final Thought

For those who love their schools rugby and who are inspired by that pathway from school to Twickenham this season is particularly good.

The likes of Anthony Watson and Sam Hill are making a real impact this year at Bath and Exeter respectively after their JWC winning efforts for the U20s last year, you have to feel it is only a matter of time before one of that squad gets a full cap.

However for real inspiration as a school player that you really are just inches away from the pro game is the Aviva A League. Played on Monday nights it has so far been absolutely stuffed full of players this season who were plying their trade on the school playing fields last year.

Just ask Max Clark – he will be playing for Bryanston School against Millfield this weekend and yet in the first week of the A League there he was lining up for Bath A next to Gavin Henson in the centres, absolutely fantastic stuff.

If any rugby topics have particularly caught your attention this week then please feel free to get in touch. You can contact us either through the contact box below, via Twitter, or via Facebook.

By Angus Savage

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