Saints and sinners: The weekend’s talking points
Wing wonders Christian Wade and Shane Williams hog the limelight, an apt send-off for departing Tigers boss Aaron Mauger and time to get tougher on the neck roll
The sun came out at the weekend and the players captured the mood, with a number of belting tries.
Cardiff Blues scrum-half Tomas Williams was twice on the end of sweeping length-of-field counter-attacks at Leinster, while Alex Goode’s try against Bath began when he gave Ben Tapuai the slip in his own 22 and featured a glorious one-two between Chris Ashton and Richard Wigglesworth.
But a personal favourite has to be the Jonny May try at Bristol on Friday night, because it started with Willi Heinz only just preventing the ball going dead at the back of his own in-goal area.
Scrambling back, the Gloucester captain kept the ball alive and set off on a counter. He passed to Tom Marshall, who put England wing May away down the left for a try scored with the clock showing red.
It brought Gloucester a bonus point – and who knows how important that might prove to be?
Christian soldiers on
Bristol lost that one 32-14 and their Aviva Premiership status hangs by a frayed thread.
On a weekend when they would have expected to close the gap on Worcester at the bottom of the Premiership, they instead saw it increase to nine points after Worcester commendably picked up two bonus points at Wasps, despite losing Bryce Heem to a red card just after half-time.
A fine effort by Warriors and well done, too, to Wasps for clinching a semi-final berth before April has arrived.
Christian Wade scored two tries, the first a typically slithery effort when several Worcester players failed to bring home down, and he looks to have the Premiership’s top try-scorer award sewn up.
He’s on 14 for the season, four clear of James Short and Semesa Rokoduguni, and if he stays top of the pile it will be the first time he’s won that accolade outright, having tied with Tom Varndell in 2012-13.
Head held high
You could see just how popular Aaron Mauger is with the Leicester players in their pulsating 36-31 win at Northampton.
The Tigers players hung in there during a difficult first period when Saints scored three tries and edged home via Owen Williams’s two late penalties.
When the final whistle sounded, the hugs for Mauger told the story and the New Zealander – turfed out to make way for the return of another popular figure, Matt O’Connor – departs with Leicester in the play-off positions and with the Anglo-Welsh Cup in the trophy cabinet.
One more dream for Shane
Shane Williams played 49 Test matches at the Millennium Stadium (now Principality Stadium) during his scintillating Wales career, but potentially he faces one more visit that could just be the most special of them all.
The wing wizard came off the bench – replacing his brother-in-law Gavin Lewis after 18 minutes – to help Amman United beat Cardigan 29-3 in the WRU National Bowl semi-final at Lampeter.
Williams, 40, played it beautifully, showing his skills but setting up tries for others, and he now hopes to play a part in the biggest game in Amman’s history – the Bowl final against Caerphilly on 16 April.
He sustained a jaw fracture in the match and spent much of Saturday night at A&E, so all fingers crossed that he makes the final and gets what one presumes will be one last outing as a player at the home of Welsh rugby.
Staying in Wales, Rhys Patchell made a spectacular return to action for the Scarlets, scoring two tries in their 26-10 defeat of Edinburgh.
The fly-half hadn’t played since damaging ankle ligaments on New Year’s Day but he showed a terrific turn of pace when collecting Hadleigh Parkes’s pass in the fourth minute to set Scarlets on their way.
His 16-point performance prompted talk of a possible Wales call for their summer tour, and conjecture that he could do a job at 12 for his country outside Dan Biggar or Sam Davies. Time will tell.
Australian referee Rohan Hoffmann has had his share of criticism, including being demoted after a poor performance in a Waratahs-Sharks game in 2015.
But it seems the former Portugal fly-half was correct in his awarding of a bizarre try in the Crusaders-Western Force match in Christchurch.
The Force had possession at a ruck on their try-line and with hands on top of the ball, which was behind the line. But Crusaders lock Luke Romano pounced on it and Hoffman gave the score.
The law states that if the ball is on the ground a player must ‘press down’ on it, so holding the ball in your hands whilst it’s on the deck doesn’t constitute sufficient downward pressure to count as a ‘grounding’ of the ball.
Tough but fair for the Force, who trailed 28-10 after Romano’s converted score and went on to lose 45-17.
There is refereeing inconsistency being applied to the neck roll – the dangerous clear-out at the ruck when a player is grasped around the neck and thrown aside.
There were doubtless other examples at the weekend but let’s highlight two: Blues back-row Jimmy Tupou did a neck roll on Bulls’ Jesse Kriel while Saracens’ Jackson Wray did likewise on his outstanding Bath adversary Francois Louw.
Nic Berry yellow-carded Tupou but Wayne Barnes let Wray remain, and I know which response I preferred.
It’s approaching two years since World Rugby demanded a crackdown on neck rolls and that’s plenty of time for players to have adapted.
You can’t accidentally neck-roll an opponent and it’s not acceptable for this practice to continue, so I’m calling for an automatic yellow card on each and every occasion it occurs.