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Monday Maul
Seeing red and soup dragons
Martin Williamson
February 17, 2014
London Irish's Tomas O'Leary sees red after being caught stamping © Getty Images
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Unhappy slapper

As many Premier League managers have shown over the years, how you view an incident is more about whether your player is saint or sinner rather than its rights and wrongs. Jonathan Thomas' red card for punching Sam Dickinson seemed on the face of it fairly simply but Worcester coach Dean Ryan saw it differently … claiming Dickinson went down "for a slap" and that he too should be cited for holding Thomas and provoking the incident. Unsurprisingly, Northampton's Jim Mallinder was right behind referee Wayne Barnes. "You can't go punching to the head," he said. "It's just something you cannot do." Ryan's mood would not have been helped by watching GJ van Velze, revealed as his new summer signing earlier in the week, piling over for two of Northampton's tries.

Hands up, foot down

Jonathan Thomas gets his marching orders for punching, Northampton Saints v Worcester Warriors, Aviva Premiership, Franklin's Gardens, Northampton, February 15, 2014
Jonathan Thomas gets his marching orders for punching ... or slapping © Getty Images
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If Thomas' red card cost Worcester the game, Tomas O'Leary's did not prevent London Irish beating Wasps to notch their second win in eight days. But there could be no defence of O'Leary's stamp on the head of James Haskell even though the Exiles' boss Brian Smith pleaded an Arsene Wenger. Post-match Smith said O'Leary had "put his hands up" adding that "whenever a scrum-half tries to free the ball things can get over vigorous". An admission of guilt or flimsy mitigating circumstances are unlikely to help O'Leary, who was having a good game until then, avoid a lengthy ban.

Irish eyes are smiling

The Irish's win continues a revival that has followed the club's takeover by a consortium of Irish businessmen at the end of last year. With money to spend and a new mood, the Irish are, Shane Geraghty said, "looking up instead of down". New players are being lined up and next season could see them in the mix in the top half of the Premiership. For now, mid-table respectability is the goal and a real test of their new resolve is likely to come this weekend when they host Leicester.

Home and away

Fortunately there were no controversies when Dean Richards returned to the scene of the crime as he took Newcastle to his old side Harlequins at The Stoop. Anyone hoping Richards might get a rough ride were left disappointed. "I got a great reception," he said. "A lot of people at the club were saying 'welcome home' which was a bit bizarre because I'm from Leicester and live in Newcastle." The goodwill ended pitchside as Quins staged a late comeback to win 18-14.

Weekend in pictures

© Getty Images
  • We round up the best pictures as attentions returned to domestic rugby in both the northern and southern hemispheres

Knocking at Stuart's door

George Ford did all he could to hammer home his credentials to Stuart Lancaster with an almost-perfect match-winning performance for Bath in their 27-23 win over Exeter. He landed four penalties and three conversions - he did not miss a shot on goal - and quelled the threat of Kyle Eastmond and Ollie Devoto. "George played exceptionally well," said Bath first-team coach Toby Booth. "He was taken out off the ball a couple of times and roughed up a little bit, but he still managed to turn in a very good kicking performance. And, more importantly, he controlled the game very impressively. All George can do is control his performance and keep performing well."

Sale's soup kitchen

Even though the south and west were lashed by gale-force winds and heavy rain on Friday night, all matches went ahead even if the conditions were often unpleasant for both spectators and players. At Sandy Park groundstaff arrived to find the wind had snapped the goalposts, necessitating some hasty repairs. And extra credit to Sale who offered 100 cups of soup post-match to those who had braved biblical conditions to watch their Friday night match.

Lies, damned lies ...

Ryan might still be insisting Worcester can stay up - he has to, to be fair - their 14th straight loss left them 11 points adrift at the foot of the table and with a mathematical but utterly unrealistic chance of catching Newcastle. But as losing runs go that cannot hold a candle up to Exeter whose loss to Bath extends their losing run against their west country rivals to 36 years. In 11 meetings since the Chiefs returned to the top flight, one draw is their best return.

Full committed ... Ashley Johnson breaks through the tackle of Shane Geraghty © Getty Images
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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Managing Editor, ESPN EMEA Digital Media

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