What went on in Paris, how the English loss might work in their favour, Vern’s send-off, and what Warren Gatland said.
Whatever Les Bleus covered themselves in during their heated final match of the 2017 Six Nations against Wales in Paris, it wasn’t glory. It smells like something else entirely.
Tournament organisers examining the match have three things to consider: Uini Atonio’s apparently convenient head injury, the bite on George North’s arm and post-match comments from France lock Yoann Maestri.
Proving the French medical team did not suspect a head injury will be almost impossible: the player’s word (he told referee Wayne Barnes he had a sore back) is almost irrelevant. Regardless, the French will find themselves in hot water if it can be proved a coach left the technical area – which they are not allowed to do – to consult with the doctor while Slimani was warming up.
North showed Barnes a bite mark on his arm and claimed that Brice Dulin had bitten him, but no conclusive video evidence was available to the TMO. The citing commissioner, however, will have more time to check the tapes, and if the review finds conclusive evidence over where the bite came from, whoever did it can expect a long ban.
And in an incendiary post-match interview, Yoann Maestri said: “Anglo-Saxon referees always talk about fair play but the reality is that they think we’re cheats. There’s a complicity between Anglo-Saxons and it is in these moments that you realise it. It was unbelievable.”
The authorities are going to take a dim view of such blatant questioning of a referee’s integrity. A fine, even a ban, is very possible.
Opinions about Wayne Barnes would keep many a bar-room rugby conversation going from opening time to long after the staff have knocked off and the lights have been turned off. But his latest outing could take up an entire evening on its own – even if you decided to limit the boundaries of the debate to the never-ending finale.
But let’s be honest: he handled the game and the rising pressure in a febrile atmosphere better than just about anyone else could have done. Barring an apparent inconsistency between dealing with Welsh and French deliberate knock-ons, he was pretty much spot-on in with the vast majority of his decisions. There were a couple that could have gone the other way, but there are those in every match.
In drawing definitive statements from key individuals over Uini Atonio’s head injury that allowed scrum-wrecker Rabah Slimani to return at a crucial time – both player and team doctor were questioned repeatedly – he ensured they would be stuck with that defence in any future investigation. He was clearly suspicious, but equally, could not defy a doctor’s word over a player’s medical condition at the time. He merely ensured that the review tapes clearly revealed what was being said.
18 and out…
England’s winning streak ended in Dublin, leaving them tied with New Zealand on 18 for the most consecutive wins for a Tier one nation. The 13-9 defeat prompted much mirth from other parts of the rugby world – notably New Zealand – and a warning from Eddie Jones. “That was like a World Cup final today and we weren’t good enough,” he warned. “But we’re better off having that experience today than in Yokohama stadium at 8 pm on the second of November, 2019.”
The message is simple. England has not suddenly become a bad side, but they have been carrying some issues that may have been ignored by their continuing run – not least the long-term future of a number of players, including captain Dylan Hartley.
England’s own history bears out Jones’ words. In 2001, they lost a match against Ireland that they really should have won. Two years later, minds concentrated and ruthless edges sharpened, they won the World Cup.
No one is saying that what happened in 2017 will lead to a repeat in 2019 of what happened in 2003 (follow that?), but if there’s a time to lose in a World Cup cycle, more than two years out from the tournament is probably the best time.
So long, Vern
Scotland gave Vern Cotter the send-off he deserved. Three wins in the Six Nations for the first time since 2006, new try and points standards, and a new verve and marauding spirit. It is widely known that SRU bosses forced his departure earlier than he wanted to go. Cotter has kept a dignified counsel about the abrupt end of his tenure and, wisely, let his coaching and his players do the talking on the pitch. Recently, Murrayfield held no fear for the likes of Wales, Ireland, England and France. Suddenly it’s a scary place again – as Wales and Ireland will testify. That’s Cotter’s legacy, and it has left his replacement Gregor Townsend with great expectations to fill.
Lions’ coach Warren Gatland was heard wondering about the lack of away wins outside Rome in this Six Nations tournament. Anyone would think he had a 10-match tour in New Zealand to worry about…
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