Sinckler may be cited after gouging claim
England prop Kyle Sinckler faces an anxious wait for a possible citing after being accused of gouging during Har- lequins’ 30-22 defeat at Northampton.
The incident occurred in the 49th minute when Michael Paterson, the Northampton lock, claimed that Sinckler had made contact with his right eye at the bottom of a ruck. Luke Pearce, the referee, examined several replays, which proved inconclusive, and only awarded a penalty for Sinckler removing Paterson’s scrum-cap.
However, Sinckler could still be cited, with a suspension carrying a low-entry point of 12 weeks under law 10.4 and a maximum sanction of four years. Chris Catling, the citing commissioner, has 48 hours to come to a decision. If cited, the 24-year-old, who was one of four Lions players left out of Eddie Jones’s latest England training squad, would face a disciplinary panel early next week.
After reviewing video footage, Pearce told Sinckler: “We’ve reviewed that incident and he is on the floor, and you do rip his scrum hat off and your hands do go into his face, too. There is no evidence on here that I am seeing that you gouged him.”
John Kingston, the Harlequins director of rugby, refuted suggestions that Sinckler was guilty of gouging. “Unequivocally, it was not a gouge,” he said.
Kingston also highlighted the nasty black eye that hooker Dave Ward received in the first half. “I know how it happened because he’s told me and I believe him,” Kingston said.
From being down and out after their opening-round massacre against Saracens, Northampton are flying high as the improbable leaders of the Aviva Premiership.
Jim Mallinder, Northampton’s director of rugby, admitted that their bonuspoint victory against Harlequins would win no extra points for style, even if it did feature a brilliant team try finished by hooker Mikey Haywood. And they should have seen off Harlequins well before Stephen Myler’s 78th-minute penalty made the game safe.
Yet here they are enjoying the view from first place, ahead of Newcastle Falcons on points difference, after racking up four straight victories. It is quite the transformation from Twickenham where they conceded seven first-half tries in a gruesome 55-24 defeat to the European champions.
“I still remember it pretty vividly,” Mallinder said. “It has been a good recovery. Today was not the prettiest but we have now got a bit of momentum. I don’t think that was Championshipwinning rugby out there but it was winning rugby, and that’s what is important at this time of the season. We were never comfortable but we stuck together and the bench did their job.”
Harlequins – missing 23 players through injury – hung on well enough to have even snatched a late win, but in the end were denied a bonus point after a penalty in front of the Northampton posts was reversed for a George Merrick shoulder charge.
They are expecting some of their England contingent, including Chris Robshaw, back against Sale on Friday night but with Kyle Sinckler in yet more hot water for an alleged gouge on Michael Paterson, their resources could be further depleted.
Northampton dominated the first half, scoring three tries, two of the very highest order.
George North’s opener was more prosaic. After Courtney Lawes claimed a close-range line-out, the ball was fed to North on the charge and Jack Clifford and Danny Care could not stop the Wales wing, who has returned to something like his old form.
If North’s try was all about power, Tom Collins’ effort relied on sheer pace as he received Harry Mallinder’s inside ball and cut a line past the floundering Marland Yarde.
Then Northampton conjured a wonderful team try in the 38th minute. Ahsee Tuala made the initial thrust before the ball was kept alive through a series of offloads from Teimana Harrison, Nic Groom, Tuala again and Lawes that resulted in Haywood going under the posts. That was the good. The bad was plain ugly.
Luther Burrell has many qualities but his decision-making can be dubious at times. Never more so than in the 12th minute when, with numbers out wide, he wound up for a long pass that could not have been more obvious than if it had been flashed up on the big screen. Morris duly picked the ball off and coasted in from 70metres.
Harlequins needed all the help they could get. On the back foot for much of the first half, they conjured a second try when Marcus Smith found support wide and Jamie Roberts was able to stroll over virtually unimpeded.
Northampton still struggled to put the visitors away in the second half but Tuala wrapped up Saints’ bonus point after the outstanding Groom sent in a kick that the Samoan captured. Smith brought Tuala down but could not hold him and he got up to score.
Harlequins responded again through a close-range effort from captain Dave Ward. Trailing by five points they kicked to the corner with minutes remaining only for Ward’s throw to be adjudged not straight. Myler’s penalty simply rubbed salt in the wounds.
Not guilty: Harlequins prop Kyle Sinckler claims he only made contact with Michael Paterson’s scrum-cap
Power play: George North galloped in for a try as he showed that he is returning to form for Saints