A Saturday of high drama for our Saints team as they just failed to make the National Intermediate Cup final at Twickenham.
In a real thriller Saints came back from a 21 - 0 deficit to 26 - 19 before a last minute try gave what I felt was a slightly skewed final score.
The Blues were undoubtedly the best side we have played this season.They played a very physical, highly skilled and quick tempo brand of rugby that will hold them in good stead at Twickenham as they look to equal Hartpury College record as three times cup winners. That would be an exceptional achievement and we wish them all the very best in their endeavours.
Brighton Blues were a fantastic club and hosted both players and supporters magnificently. In many ways it was a real old-fashioned rugby occasion with great craic off the field and Cornish voices ringing out in the bar. Wonderful as well to see so many of our Colts there to witness what a great social game our sport can be.
Looking around the ground and seeing over 100 Saints supporters waving flags and shouting themselves hoarse will be an abiding memory that will live with all of us forever. We are a lucky club to have the ever increasing Massive behind us, many thanks to all of you.
One area that has provoked considerable discussion was the penalty count and it is a shame that attention has been on this rather than a pulsating game. After much thought I felt I would be remiss not to comment.
Let me preface this by stating categorically that this in no way implies that Brighton were lucky to win. They performed wonderfully and fully deserve their final place, I have already emailed their management to tell them this and to congratulate them on their display.
Secondly I really appreciate that rugby guards jealously the respect given to referees, quite rightly. It is a very difficult job with many large bodies flying around in contact at high speed and referees having so many laws to apply, it is never an easy job.
Both of these points above, sour grapes and the "ref is always right", are often used as reasons to remain silent. However if there is a genuine point to be made then we should not hide behind these as reasons to avoid a sensible debate. I have deliberately given myself some time to reflect and do not want to comment specifically on Saturdays referee. I will limit myself to statements of fact and my approach when my side are being penalised.
The facts are that Saints conceded 19 penalties to the Blues 3, the first Brighton penalty came in the 60th minute. The ref told me at halftime that we were being penalised for not rolling away and in the bar afterwards that the issue was with the second tackler. So, in his view, we double tackled and the second tackler did not release the tackled player. Most of the pens were for these infringements.
When I look at penalty counts I tend to look at a few things
How many did my side give away ?
To be fair we have conceded a large number of penalties this season and have regularly discussed lowering this, something we had managed to achieve over several games. So close to this number of pens has been given against us this season in previous, but much earlier games.
I then look at how my team react to refs instructions in the game ?
Have we been given clear instructions by the ref as to what we are doing wrong, have we reacted to change our game to his interpretation of the laws, has the penalty count against us decreased as a result of our actions ?
This is important as despite just the one law book every ref has their own slightly different interpretation on how to apply them. With this in mind you need to pretty quickly get up-to-speed with how each ref wants to play the game and adapt accordingly. One could suggest that we just did not adapt to the referee's interpretation quickly enough.
Finally I ask is the ref being consistent in his application and interpretation for both sides ?
I know there is nothing that I can do here and an argument that I could be biased in my opinions, fair point. I think it is important to be as detached as possible and ask yourself some hard questions so you are really looking at it with a balanced view, see my first point about a high penalty count as evidence of how I try to be open-minded.
In discussion I hear a lot of talk about referees rewarding the "dominant sides" but this is clearly a nonsense isn't it ? If a side has offended, then they have offended, does the fact that they may be "dominant" at this point give them special rights to penalties. I have looked in the Law book and can't see anything here that says this is what should happen.
I felt that there were some instances where we did not get the rub of the green in penalties awarded against us and penalties not awarded to us. While I am not suggesting anything deliberately untoward here I felt that differing law interpretations played far too big a role in how such a big game was played and that was disappointing.
So next Saturday sees the Saints dusting themselves down and getting back to league duty with a tough away game at Devonport services. We will not rest until we get the 4 points we need to ensure that we are crowned champions. We need to use the cup disappointment to fire us over the line. It is hard but sport is like that sometimes, all you can do is pick yourself up and make sure that you learn and apply any lessons that need to be learnt.
Yours in rugby