Rugby follows football….Oh dear

Wasps were comfortably holding on to their 13-5 lead against Northampton last weekend, when the referee awarded the home side a penalty after Wasps’ Jimmy Gopperth gave him some verbals.At one stage his indiscretion threatened to cost his team the match, and his coach, Dai young, pointed out that while it is difficult for players not to shout at a referee in the heat of the moment, players have been made aware of the Premiership crackdown on dissent, and should not be allowed to fulminate like footballers.

 

In the same match Saints full back Ben Foden was clattered late by Nathan Hughes, and had a long look at the referee before writhing around in pain. He is not the first rugby player taken to rolling around on the floor after being body-checked or late tackled and then casting a beady eye on the referee or touch-judge to see if their con act has worked. Obviously it’s football’s fault, a sport long plagued by players as if they were auditioning for Swan Lake.

 

At the Bristol/Exeter match over the same weekend there were reports of a “skirmish” between rival fans in the South Stand at Ashton Gate.  In the grand scheme of things there will be those rugby apologists who argue that it was only a flashpoint incident, and that such booze-filled altercations have been routine down the years at football grounds. And after all, Ashton Gate also hosts Bristol City, so perhaps there was something in the air.

 

But it ill-behoves rugby to try and claim any moral high ground up against football. Consider that we have just had Chris Ashworth’s biting incident, an act of gouging by Brive fly-half Matthieu Ugalde in France’s Top 14, reports in New Zealand of a “lewd” evening involving a Super Rugby franchise , and a young player spared jail for a vicious assault as it might impact on his developing career.

 

Rugby can certainly not afford to be smug.

 

 

 

 

Mike Miles

 

www.scrumdown.org.uk

 

mike.miles@scrumdown.org.uk

 

 

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Bums on European seats wanted…

So how did that happen? Three Premiership sides in the last four of the major European rugby club competition  for only the second time in history, with two semi-finals on English soil to come and the distinct possibility of an all-English final in Lyons next month. Be honest. How many predicted any of this last October when England were being unceremoniously dumped out of their own Rugby World Cup at the group stage.

 

This Saturday around 80,000 people are expected to pack Wembley for the Premiership fixture between Saracens and Harlequins. Yet a gate of 8,050 to see Sarries overcome Northampton Saints in their quarter-final at Allianz Park last weekend made it the worst-attended European quarter-final since Stade Francais hosted Pau 15 years ago – and it beats that by a mere 50.

Apparently Saracens had planning permission to supply the necessary 15,000 seats for a quarter-final venue, but as it became clear their normal capacity of 10,000 was not going to be required, EPCR sensibly absolved them of the expense of extending their ground. Northampton were even said to have returned all but 600 of their 3,500 ticket allocation.

It is concerning that two old rivals competing in a major European competition and separated by only 60 miles of M1 could fail to fill a modestly sized stadium for a match as big as this – and a little depressing. There would appear to be some marketing and promotional lessons in there somewhere.

 

Meanwhile, around 5,000 empty seats were on display as Leicester thumped Stade Francais at Welford Road, and the Ricoh Arena was around 9,000 bums short of a sell-out for the epic match between Wasps and Exeter.

 

It may have been one of the busiest sporting weekends of the year and therefore fans’ attentions were somewhat divided. But something seems amiss when top-drawer knock-out European rugby fails to sell out.

 

Mike Miles

 

www.scrumdown.org.uk

 

mike.miles@scrumdown.org.uk

 

 

Saints win away from Home

April 25,2015
StadiumMK, Milton Keynes

Aviva Premiership
Round 20
Northampton Saints v Saracens

Northampton…….25
Saracens…………..20

Attendance 27,411

Stadium MK will get its first taste of international rugby at the World Cup later this year, when it is scheduled to host three matches, including the France v Canada game on October 1.Today’s “Best of British”, top-of-the-table clash between Northampton Saints and Saracens has long been switched to the 30,500 capacity stadium as part of tournament organiser England Rugby 2015’s operational testing programme.
Let’s hope they were watching closely. There was gridlock around the ground for more than three hours before the 3.15 kick-off; due it would seem mainly to road closures.
The last time I was here I picked a Saturday when the infamous “engineering works” meant a half-an-hour journey took almost five times as long. Has anyone bothered to check that Network Rail does not intend to carry out work on the West Coast main line next October?
This wasn’t the only cock-up. Saracens had to do a quick change of shirts at half-time because of a clash with Northampton. Saints had informed Sarries that they would be wearing a St George’s Day kit of red and white, designed to support Help for Heroes. Saracens must have not got the message and the visitors turned up in their normal away strip of all-white. The referee allowed the game to go ahead while Saracens had their normal black shirts delivered by a police escort in time for the second half.

Both teams have used Stadium Mk as a home from home in the past. Saracens were the first club to host a rugby match at the ground when Bristol visited in 2008, providing a grand stage for Rugby World Cup 2003 winner Richard Hill’s 288th and last appearance for the men in black. A last-minute try from Kameli Ratuvou ensured Hill’s 15-year club career finished on a winning note.
Northampton then used Stadium MK as a base for their assault on the Heineken Cup knockout stages in 2011. The Saints defeated Ulster and Perpignan in front of big crowds in the quarter and semi-finals. The following season also saw Munster stop by for a pool match, with Simon Zebo marking one of the most thrilling chapters in the stadium’s short rugby history with a hat-trick as the Irish side won an entertaining contest 51-36.Saracens once again visited for their home Premiership fixture against the Saints on December 310, 2012, while their new stadium at Barnet was being built.

MK Dons moved to their brand new stadium (which cost about £50million to build) in 2007. From the outside it has a modern look, with good use of silver coloured cladding and a large amount of glass on view. The most striking feature is the stadium’s roof, which sits high up above the ground with a large gap between it and the back row of seating which allows more natural light to reach the pitch. The stadium is totally enclosed and has a bowl like design.
The overall look of the stadium has recently benefitted from the installation of seating into the previously unused upper tier. This will take the capacity to 30,700 for the World Cup. It is two-tiered, with three sides having a large lower tier over-hung by a smaller upper tier. The west side of the stadium is slightly different, with the seating areas in the upper tier being replaced by the Directors box and executive and corporate hospitality areas.Unusally the spacious concourse areas at the back of the lower tier see directly into the stadium, so where is what seems a noticeable gap between the lower and upper tiers is where the concourse is located.

Once you get into the stadium it is a delight. Chatting with other fans, the majority were greatly impressed, commenting on the comfort and legroom in the seating, with excellent views of the action and a great atmosphere. The toilet facilities have been especially praised by many fans, male and female, offering wide entrances, soap and hot running water. Such luxuries at a football ground! The stadium even has such creature comforts as padded seats and the ability to watch the game in progress whilst munching a burger on the concourse.
There was an excellent fan area with around 15 branches of famous restaurants. Provided you set off in the next week or two to make sure you arrive on time, then the Milton Keynes World Cup experience should be fabulous….

But enough quibbling…let’s not forget there was a game of rugby. This biting and blasting contest marked the end of Northampton’s late-season dip. After their heavy defeats at Clermont and Exeter they had the game to hold off an heroic attempt by Saracens to dethrone them from the top of the table. Saracens, themselves coming off a draining match in France against Clermont, had to absorb the massive blow of losing Billy Vunipola in the first half to injury, being pulverised by the referee and losing a significant lead. But their commitment was beyond praise.
However, the Saints eventually overcame the sinners of Saracens, whose discipline collapsed along with their scrum after the break, when they were penalised 13 times and finished a match they led for the most part fortunate to have a bonus point. When Stephen Myler gave his side the lead for the first time 63 minutes in it was via his fifth penalty, and the Saints had found a way to win.
Mike Miles

http://www.scrumdown.org.uk

Thank Goodness for London Welsh?

it was massively refreshing to see Newcastle push Northampton Saints all the way at Franklin’s Gardens last Friday.They looked a different team to the one that was so dogged but dull last season;the one that survived by the skin of their teeth at Worcester’s expense.Then the Falcons never looked like they thought they belonged in the Premiership, but they certainly do now,playing with a freedom and abandon on Friday night that allowed them to really test Northampton’s defence.

Newcastle’s performance poses a couple of interesting questions;

is their keeping in touch with Saints proof that the salary cap must stay,so as not to eradicate such encounters?

Or, is their willingness to throw the ball around, safe in the knowledge that London Welsh are all but relegated below them,an argument for a ring-fenced Premiership without relegation?

Talking of salary caps, probably the most commercially successful sport in the world is America’s National Football League.Its broadcast rights alone were worth £13 billion in 2013. But in the heartland of capitalism it has a salary cap that is directly related to revenue.

And the NFL goes even further, and with its draft processes tries to ensure that at some point every team is capable of having its day. And there is no relegation/promotion.

Here are some ideas worthy of debate, I wonder what Edward Griffiths of Saracens would say…..?

Mike Miles

http://www.scrumdown.org.uk

Refund for North fine?

Premiership Rugby fined Northampton £60,000 for allowing George North to play for Wales outside the 2013 Autumn series window designated by the IRB

This season the USA/New Zealand Test takes place in Chicago outside the same window,yet Premiership Rugby has agreed to release USA players such as Samu Manoa of Northampton.

Perhaps they should offer to reimburse Saints for the North fine. I wouldn’t bet on it

Mike Miles

http://www.scrumdown.org.uk

Franklins Gardens..a real rugby stadium

You can buy success but you cannot buy heart and soul. Franklin’s Gardens has always been a wonderful place to watch rugby. The trappings of professionalism, the big money, the importing of foreign talent. Be it George North from across the Welsh border, or the Pisi Brothers, Samoans via New Zealand, they have not frayed the umbilical cord that attaches the Saints players to the community. The bottom line matters but so too does the shirt.

Northampton Saints are probably unique among professional sports clubs in that they have made a profit every year since 2000.The ground has a capacity of 13,591 and is widely considered one of the best club stadiums in British rugby. Quite rightly in my opinion, even if a pint of Tetleys is a London-beating £5.00.

At the end of a week when Wasps announced a move a 100 miles away to Coventry, it is fitting to salute the Saints’ firm foundations. The Gardens, originally known as Melbourne Gardens, were created by John Collier, and after his death in 1886 they were bought by John Franklin, a local hotelier, who renamed them Franklin’s Gardens the following year. The Saints moved there in the late 1880’s.
During the 1990’s a raft of temporary stands increased the capacity to 10,000. Then the stadium underwent a complete re-build in the early 2000’s. The Tetley’s and South stands were opened formally by Ian McGeechan with the horseshoe stadium completed in the summer of 2002 with the building of the Church’s Stand.
The final part of the jigsaw is for a new North Stand, to replace the current Sturidge Pavilion. This would take the capacity up to 17,000.

Northampton have also shown how to get things right on the field. The defending champions sealed their place at the top of the Aviva Premiership with what proved to be a comfortable win over toothless Sale Sharks, who have not won at Franklin’s Gardens since May 2006, and showed no signs of doing so here. With Stephen Myler and Danny Cipriani competing to pull on the England No 10 shirt next month a battle of the fly-halves loomed, but it was Northampton’s American no 8, Samu Manoa, who grabbed the headlines with three of the Saints’ six tries. Sale did batter the home line a few times but they lacked the composure to keep the ball safe for long enough to seriously trouble the meanest defence in the league for the first hour. Ironically their solitary try was probably the best scored in the match.
Apparently, Sale’s Director of Rugby, Steve Diamond, left the ground early, and was “too angry” to attend the post-match inquest. You couldn’t blame him…

Mike Miles
http://www.scrumdown.org.uk