Saints and sinners: The weekend’s talking points
Try records tumble around Europe's leagues, Christian Wade emulates a 20-year-old feat, the delay at Wasps and why Ealing Trailfinders were hard done by in Leeds
It’s raining tries
A decade ago, it was so easy for attacking teams to offend at the breakdown that many resorted to kicking the ball away. Rugby could be an unedifying spectacle in those days, but now the balance is redressed – as the stats for the European professional leagues show.
There were 725 tries scored in the Aviva Premiership regular season that concluded on Saturday, the highest figure since the 1999-2000 campaign (750) when all those rugby league defence coaches hadn’t yet switched codes.
Wasps (89) and Exeter (86) both beat the previous record number of tries for a 22-match campaign – Newcastle’s 85 in 1997-98.
Elsewhere it was a similar tale. The 711 tries in the Guinness Pro12 regular season smashed the 2003-04 record by 60 while there were 854 tries in France’s Top 14 – surpassing the previous high of 824 for 26 rounds established last year.
Onward Christian soldiers
Seventeen of those 725 Premiership tries were scored by Wasps winger Christian Wade, which matched the long-standing mark held by Richmond’s Dominic Chapman. Wade’s record-equalling try was the easiest he’ll ever score, as a series of ricochets against Saracens presented the ball to him inches from the try-line.
The two men have much in common. Like Wade, Chapman was 5ft 9in, lightning quick and has one England cap to show for his efforts.
The Richmond man was not short of confidence. Ahead of the 1998 Tour to Hell, when his 17 tries had earned him a place in a denuded England squad, the then 22-year-old said: “I’m not in awe of anybody. I don’t think anyone can run around me. I’m quite comfortable in giving wings the outside and cutting them down.”
Chapman’s single cap came off the bench in England’s 76-0 thrashing by Australia.
Wade, capped in Argentina four years ago under Stuart Lancaster, will be 26 next Monday and still has time to avoid becoming a one-cap wonder.
His Premiership feat is far more impressive than Chapman’s because of the era in which he achieved it. Not only have defences been transformed since 1997-98 but there are no easy-beats now (barring the 2014-15 London Welsh team).
Wade, whose five hat-tricks is also a Premiership record, may have equalled Chapman’s record but in truth he’s out on his own.
Staying on the flyers, well done to Steff Evans for finishing top try-scorer in the Guinness Pro12 with 11. The Scarlets wing is sure to be included in the Wales tour squad that will be named tomorrow.
The Scarlets ended their regular season in some style, demolishing the Ospreys 40-17 to clinch third place and the dubious pleasure of a semi-final trip to Leinster a week on Friday.
Wayne Pivac’s men are fantastic to watch and their drubbing of the Ospreys featured 22 offloads and 737 metres made with in ball in hand. They will certainly give it a crack at the RDS Arena.
Ospreys, meanwhile, will regroup for a visit to Munster’s Thomond Park the following evening.
Champions Cup qualifiers
The Champions Cup qualifiers are as follows:
Aviva Premiership Wasps, Exeter, Saracens, Leicester, Bath, Harlequins.
Guinness Pro12 Munster, Leinster, Scarlets, Ospreys, Ulster, Glasgow Warriors, Treviso.
Top 14 La Rochelle, Clermont Auvergne, Montpellier, Toulon, Castres, Racing.
The 20th place for next season’s tournament will be decided by a series of play-off games. If Gloucester win Friday’s Challenge Cup final against Stade Français at Murrayfield, they will replace Northampton – the seventh-ranked club from the Premiership – in Play-off 1.
Champions Cup play-offs, 19/20/21 May:
Play-off 1 Northampton (Premiership seventh-ranked club) or Gloucester v Connacht (Pro12 ninth-ranked club)
Play-off 2 Stade Français (Top 14 seventh-ranked club) v Cardiff Blues (Pro12 eighth-ranked club)
The two winners will meet in the final on the weekend of 26-28 May, with the Play-off 1 winner having home advantage.
The pool draws for next season’s Champions Cup and Challenge Cup competitions take place in Neuchâtel, Switzerland on Thursday 8 June.
Down under, the likelihood of the Lions facing two Barretts in this summer’s Test series increases by the week.
The influence that the uncapped Jordie Barrett is having in Super Rugby is extraordinary for a 20-year-old. Although nominally a full-back, he frequently pops up at first or second receiver for the Hurricanes and, as can be imagined, has an almost telepathic understanding with his brother Beauden.
The pair pulled the strings in Hurricanes’ 41-22 win over the Stormers, Jordie pulling off one of the cheekiest tries you’ll ever see when stripping back-row Nizaam Carr of the ball over the try-line and touching it down with inches to spare as the pair slithered towards the dead-ball line.
Beauden’s kick-passing – cross-kicking isn’t quite the term – is also a joy to behold. His delightful dink for Cory Jane opened the ‘Canes account and whoever the Lions pick in their back three will need to be on red alert for this. No one in world rugby does it better than Beauden Barrett, though Gloucester’s Henry Trinder gave a brilliant illustration of the skill when setting up Jonny May for a try at Bath the other week.
Delay at the Ricoh
How unfortunate that the Wasps-Saracens kick-off should be delayed by 15 minutes – because of congestion outside the stadium – when all the final-round matches were meant to start at the same time.
I’m not agreeing with those who felt it was sharp practice but certainly Wasps may have benefited.
With Exeter’s result decided, Wasps knew in the latter stages of their game that they needed a bonus-point win to secure the easier semi-final against Leicester Tigers. Elliot Daly crossed for that vital fourth try with less than ten minutes remaining.
Should Exeter have been allowed to delay their kick-off at Gloucester by 15 minutes so both matches started simultaneously? That creates other issues and in any case, players just want to get going after they’ve warmed up and prepared for a specific kick-off time.
It’s typical of Rob Baxter, Exeter’s director of rugby, that he should choose not to make a fuss of the episode.
“If it helped them (Wasps) it helped them but it’s not something for me to be concerned about. These things happen,” he said.
“We had a delayed kick-off at Sandy Park a couple of weeks ago. And if we had been at Sandy Park today and we’d had trouble I would have expected the game to be delayed. We did what we could do and got a five-point win. And they did what they could do and got a five-point win. I’ve got no problem with it.”
Are pushover tries banned?
Another pop at a ref. In Friday night’s Greene King IPA Championship semi-final second leg, Ealing Trailfinders had Yorkshire Carnegie’s number at the scrum, picking up from their first-leg dominance.
Three times in succession they won a scrum penalty close to Yorkshire’s line and they might have wondered whether they had already done enough to earn a penalty try.
Referee Tim Wigglesworth wasn’t obliging, however, and so Ealing packed down again. This time they marched forward, with the ball between the feet of No 8 Mark Bright and a pushover try a certainty unless Yorkshire infringed.
Inexplicably, Wigglesworth then called “use it” to Ealing, and scrum-half Luke Carter obeyed, but things went awry and Yorkshire cleared their lines.
Why on earth is the ref calling “use it” when a team is close to the opposition goal-line and advancing rapidly? Are pushover tries not allowed any more?
It brought to mind the series of Stade Francais-Harlequins scrums in the 2011 Challenge Cup final, when George Clancy refused to give Stade the penalty that would have given them a kick to win the trophy.
Ealing led 10-6 at the time and were still in contention, despite having incurred an 18-point first-leg deficit. They couldn’t have been promoted to the Premiership, having chosen not to apply for the minimum-standards audit, but they deserved better as they chased a place in the final against London Irish.
The Londoners should also have had a penalty try on the hour when the home side illegally stopped an Ealing drive near the line.