Bar­ring­ton barred

Sara­cens fight back af­ter first red card un­der new rules

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - FRONT PAGE -

A fe­ro­cious re­run of last year’s Aviva Pre­mier­ship fi­nal fea­tured five con­cus­sions and one red card, which could well have been two, high­light­ing both rugby’s alarm­ing at­tri­tion rate as well as the con­fu­sion sur­round­ing the new law guide­lines aimed at re­duc­ing it.

Sara­cens will claim the moral vic­tory with a draw that re­turns them tem­po­rar­ily to the top of the Aviva Pre­mier­ship hav­ing been re­duced to 14 men af­ter a quite sick­en­ing in­ci­dent in the 11th minute.

Ge­off Par­ling, the Ex­eter lock who has had his share of con­cus­sion prob­lems, was car­ry­ing the ball when he was caught around the jaw by the swing­ing arm of Brad Bar­ritt. That caused his head to dip into the ris­ing shoul­der of Richard Bar­ring­ton, the prop, who was stand­ing be­hind Bar­ritt and was join­ing the tackle. Par­ling’s neck and head whipped back and he col­lapsed to the ground. Af­ter lengthy treat­ment he was car­ried off, but re­cov­ered enough to watch the later stages of the game from the side­lines.

Although there was no ma­li­cious in­tent on the part of Bar­ring­ton, who had led the team out on the oc­ca­sion of his 100th ap­pear­ance for the club, ref­eree Ian Tem­pest told him “un­for­tu­nately I have no other op­tion” be­cause his shoul­der had made con­tact with Par­ling’s head. The red card duly fol­lowed.

Even if Bar­ring­ton’s con­tact was the con­cus­sive blow, Bar­ritt’s of­fence was the more reck­less and Tem­pest could well have shown an­other card, given World Rugby’s guide­lines demanding a “zero-tol­er­ance ap­proach” to head con­tact came into ef­fect on Jan 3. Even if Tem­pest was us­ing his dis­cre­tion to

This was the first time Sara­cens have failed to win a home game in nine months. keep the game alive as a con­test, ex­pect a cit­ing for Bar­ritt later this week.

This is al­ready the sixth red card to have been is­sued in the Pre­mier­ship this sea­son – only eight were shown in the en­tirety of last sea­son – but the num­ber could well be dou­bled on the pre­sent tra­jec­tory.

Mark McCall, the Sara­cens direc­tor of rugby, would not com­ment on the in­ci­dent it­self, but said of World Rugby’s ini­tia­tive: “We need to be care­ful. To­day’s game ended up be­ing a ti­tanic strug­gle be­tween 14 v 15 but I don’t think any­one wants to see those type of games all of the time. We need to be sen­si­ble – and I am not say­ing they weren’t to­day – with how we ap­ply this care for play­ers.”

A per­ni­cious knock-on ef­fect of the new law guide­lines is that in forc­ing tack­lers to go low the risk has been trans­ferred from one group of play­ers to an­other. Sev­eral of the other con­cus­sions – Marcelo Bosch, Nick Tomp­kins, Bar­ritt for Sara­cens and Ol­lie Atkins for Ex­eter – re­sulted from tack­lers’ heads re­bound­ing off hips and knees. As Rob Bax­ter, the Ex­eter head coach, re­marked: “What I am in­ter­ested in is if in a year’s time with the pres­sure to push to­wards low tack­les if we end up hav­ing more con­cus­sions than we have cur­rently with the change of tackle em­pha­sis what will be the next de­ci­sion?”

It is a shame that the con­tro­versy over law ap­pli­ca­tions over­shad­owed an­other ex­tra­or­di­nary dis­play of re­silience from Sara­cens. Within a few min­utes of Bar­ring­ton’s red card, they trailed 10-0, with Jack Now­ell scor­ing a won­der­fully dex­ter­ous try and Gareth Steen­son kick­ing five points.

Sean Mait­land, the wing, was sac­ri­ficed so Sara­cens could keep eight for­wards, but that forced the back line to plug sev­eral holes. Richard Wig­glesworth, the scrum-half, and Chris Wyles, the wing, were out­stand­ing in that re­gard. In­deed Sara­cens were the bet­ter team in the second half and drew level six min­utes from time through a pushover try from Titi Lamositele, Mait­land’s re­place­ment.

“I thought it was an in­cred­i­ble dis­play for lots of rea­sons,” McCall said. “To lose the man as early as we did against a team of Ex­eter’s qual­ity you have to fight, which we did, show a lot of ef­fort, which we did, but we also had to be smart and clever in that they coped and dealt with all the sit­u­a­tions that arose. That is as hard earned a two points as you will ever get. By the end it was a game we could have won.”

Af­ter Steen­son kicked the penalty re­sult­ing from Bar­ring­ton’s send­ing off, Ex­eter soon struck again through Now­ell, who usu­ally avoids the trips to Al­lianz Park’s ar­ti­fi­cial pitch. With Mait­land ab­sent from his post on the wing, Steen­son kicked to the cor­ner, where Now­ell took the ball one handed like an NFL wide re­ceiver. Odell Beck­ham Jr would have been im­pressed.

The send­ing off and the try left Sara­cens reel­ing. Their usual com­po­sure and ball-car­ry­ing fe­roc­ity were ab­sent and it took un­til the half-hour for them to en­ter the Ex­eter 22. A scrum penalty af­forded Alex Lo­zowski the op­por­tu­nity to get Sara­cens on the score­board.

That the cham­pi­ons made it to half­time down only a score was tes­ta­ment to their en­dur­ing de­fen­sive ex­cel­lence. With just a minute re­main­ing in the half, Ex­eter flanker Dom Ar­mand cut an ex­cel­lent line be­tween Michael Rhodes and Juan Fi­gallo and looked cer­tain to score but first Wyles got across to take his legs and then Rhodes man­aged to knock the ball from Ar­mand’s grasp as he was stretch­ing for the line. If you needed a pas­sage of play to show­case Sara­cens’ re­silience then that was it.

You can imag­ine that mes­sage was re­layed in the changing rooms as Sara­cens came out for the second half with re­newed pur­pose. It helps, of course, when you can call upon re­place­ments of the cal­i­bre of Schalk Burger and Jamie Ge­orge as well as the size of Will Skelton. The 22st Aus­tralian lock im­me­di­ately bol­stered the Sara­cens scrum and added sev­eral de­grees of bal­last in de­fence and as a car­rier.

Lo­zowski and Steen­son ex­changed penal­ties but the mo­men­tum was build­ing for Sara­cens. Even­tu­ally the dam burst when Jim Hamilton claimed a line-out and Lamositele came up with the ball. Lo­zowski con­verted to draw the scores level but Sara­cens could not find a win­ning score even as Alex Goode sus­tained yet an­other in­jury.

“We have to be dis­ap­pointed not to have won hav­ing played so long with 15 v 14 and to got some space on the score­board,” Bax­ter said. “Not con­vert­ing more of the five-me­tre pres­sure we had in the first half has ul­ti­mately cost us.

“I don’t know who the red card suited more. It made it so sim­ple for them. The for­wards were go­ing to take con­trol of the game. Ul­ti­mately they did enough to draw the game. We should be frus­trated.”

Im­pact: Sara­cens prop Richard Bar­ring­ton (top) col­lides with Ge­off Par­ling’s head

Pain game: Brad Bar­ritt was for­tu­nate not to be red-carded for his high hit on Ex­eter lock Ge­off Par­ling (left), but Richard Bar­ring­ton was dis­missed af­ter his shoul­der made con­tact with Par­ling’s head as he went to ground (right). Par­ling was sub­sti­tuted af­ter pro­longed med­i­cal at­ten­tion but did not ap­pear to be as badly in­jured as first feared.

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