Peter Jackson gets over the gain line, behind the headline
Every sport offers the cheats a chance, be it the footballer who feigns injury by taking a dive, the golfer who kicks his or her ball out of the rough when he, or she, thinks nobody’s looking or the batsman who knows he’s nicked it to the keeper but refuses to walk.
As for the common offence of wasting time, offenders can usually be caught in the net of ‘conduct contrary to the spirit of the game’, unless that game happens to be rugby union. This may take some believing but they, in their infinite wisdom, have a law which allows time-wasting on an embarrassing scale.
For reasons beyond my ken, rugby allows the kicker a maximum of 90 seconds after a try has been scored to complete the conversion. At Newcastle last Friday night, England stand-off George Ford brought the match to a standstill by eking out every last second before converting the Guy Thompson try that just about saved Leicester from relegation.
Ford merely did as any player would have done in his position with a place in next season’s English Premiership at stake. He is not the first to have exposed the folly of the law that gives the kicker time enough to take a cup of tea, nor will he be the last.
Ruan Pienaar took similar advantage for Montpellier at Clermont last season, killing the clock so effectively that after nudging his team a point clear, the opposition had virtually no time left.
The same fate befell Newcastle but not before a besieged Leicester had somehow kept them out. Had Ford taken his conversion promptly, the Tigers would have had to man the barricades for another minute at least, long enough perhaps to have put them down and kept Newcastle up.
Rugby used to be big on values like ‘the spirit of the game’. That, along with such idealistic notions about fair play, has been battered into submission. What happened on Tyneside provided a depressing reaffirmation of what Charles Dickens wrote in Oliver Twist about the law being an ass, in this case to the point of bringing the game into disrepute. Guilty as charged, your honour.
Israel Folau’s Old Testament rhetoric left his Australian employers no choice but to tear up his contract. The only alternative the best full-back in the world gave them would have been tantamount to condoning his homophobia.
The judgemental nature of his attack comes at a time when there is already far too much hate and far too little love in a world which can never have been more divided. Nobody denies Folau’s right to his opinion, but it’s a shame that he chose to ignore two of Christianity’s fundamental values, compassion and tolerance.
As the incomparable Test referee Nigel Owens, whose courage in coming out as gay ought never to be underestimated, said: “There are some things in life you can choose. Sexuality is not one of them.” The bible acknowledges God as ‘the Father of compassion’. It also says: ‘Let him without sin cast the first stone’.
The result of the French referendum opposing the appointment of a ‘foreign’ coach prompted many people on social media into a sneering condemnation of their refusal to follow the common herd and appoint the first Kiwi gawking at the remains of Notre Dame.
Instead, the rank-and-file French clubs ought to be congratulated on keeping faith with the old-fashioned principle that the job of running the France national team should be reserved for one of their own. No red lines, no back stops, no xenophobia, just a wish to keep it in-house.
And so Fabien Galthie, who captained France at the 2003 Rugby World Cup in Australia, will shoulder responsibility once the Six Nations’ also-rans are knocked out in Japan. And then all the former Stade Francais man has to do is emulate Aimé Jacquet in 1998 and Didier Deschamps in 2016 as Frenchmen in charge of victorious French teams at FIFA World Cups.
Not a single member of the last Munster team to rule the European roost in 2008 will rush to disagree with the verdict over the last time they ran into Saracens on neutral territory in Coventry, that they were lucky to get away with a win.
A semi-final defeat which had hung in the balance until the final, fateful decision of the French referee brought Richard Hill’s career to an anti-climactic finish. If ever a player deserved to take his last bow in a European final, England’s mighty three-in-one back row forward did.
He would probably have got there had David Wallace been penalised for hands in the last ruck with Munster clinging on for dear lifeto a two-point lead. Instead, the penalty went their way, ensuring their passage to Cardiff and a second European Cup in Wales in two years.
Sarries are better now than they were then and if today’s Munster suffer by comparison to the O’Connell, O’Callaghan, O’Gara champions of yesteryear, they have the priceless knack of finding a way more often than not.
They have another unique advantage. The Red Army will be in the West Midlands in numbers great enough to ridicule the theory that this is supposed to be a ‘home’ tie for Saracens. A bit further west and it could pass for a neutral venue equidistant between Limerick and London.