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Monday Maul
Premiership makes case for summer rugby
Tom Hamilton
May 5, 2014
Worcester were relegated on Saturday, but should it be a closed 14-team league? © Getty Images
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After a try-filled weekend of rugby, ESPN looks back at the key talking points in Monday Maul.

Premiership makes case for summer rugby

Over the last weekend of Premiership rugby, 45 tries were scored. Games were decided by monster scorelines with supporters basking in the sun, sipping various beverages and lapping up the tries. It was a compelling case for summer rugby; something backs from around the country mention whenever a rare sighting of the sun seems to occur.

Zero tolerance of abuse vital

  • The apparent abuse aimed from spectators at referee Matthew Carley as he left the field after Friday night's Bath-Northampton match is just the latest incident in what has been a depressing month for those who believe that rugby is played in a different spirit to football.
  • Yes, it was a tiny minority involved, as is almost always quickly pointed out, and passions run high when sport is involved. But that does not excuse such behaviour. And when treated in context with other incidents, it is hard not to start thinking something is going wrong at all levels.
  • Read the full comment here

It has been a much-debated aspect of the northern hemisphere game. The opening couple of games of the season are normally played in balmy conditions as supporters feel a sense of optimism surrounding their team's prospects.

Come December and those pre-season hopes are normally either shattered or literally dampened by early nights, frequent rain and cold temperatures. The running rugby witnessed at the start of the season seemed to be from another time and in its place was good, old, forward-dominated rugby.

But that is what makes our game great. Those hard-fought wins in the deluge mean just as much, if not more, than a six-try romp in the sun. So despite the case for summer rugby, a full season of taking the damp with the sun should be cherished, not dispatched.

The other option at fly-half

With England likely to be without Owen Farrell for their first Test against New Zealand on June 7, Stuart Lancaster will have to pick someone with much less international experience at fly-half. All the talk is currently surrounding a potential recall for Danny Cipriani.

On Friday night at the Recreation Ground, there were two other options. George Ford delighted the home support with a lovely individual try but for those travelling from Northampton, they would have been proud of their fly-half Stephen Myler. He is probably not as glamorous a pick as Cipriani or Ford, but he was superb against Bath. He slotted all of his kicks bar one, including a touchline conversion, and his well-timed offload gave Jamie Elliott enough space to get the Saints' try.

Lancaster constantly talks about having "credit in the bank". Myler played for England last summer in Argentina while Ford featured briefly during the recent Six Nations. It is likely to be between those two for who starts against New Zealand on June 7.

Quins' youngsters come of age

Despite experiencing a season tainted by frequent injuries, Harlequins are hitting the mark at just the right time. Next weekend they will have a 'winner takes all match' against Bath at the Stoop for just who forces their way into the play-offs and it would take a brave man to bet against Quins.

They are showing some defensive frailties but they are dangerous heading forward and all this with a relatively young team. Against Exeter on Sunday, helping them to their 30-29 win, were 13 English players in the starting XV, with five aged 23 and under. Tight-head Kyle Sinckler is rightly getting plaudits for his performances at tight-head, while Joe Marler, Charlie Matthews, Ollie Lindsay-Hague and Luke Wallace are now part of the furniture.

While their young guns are playing well, mention also has to be made of hooker Dave Ward's performances this season. He has an outside shot of making the tour to New Zealand and picked up another Man of the Match award for his showing on Sunday.

One of the last bastions of amateurism

The Army/Navy game is a match that terrifies the Twickenham locals, causes pub landlords to rub their hands with glee and is just a brilliant occasion. It is great to see an amateur match still thriving in this age of professionalism. Twickenham was full to the brim on Saturday to see the Army dispatch the Navy 30-17, with the losing hooker scoring a hat-trick. Bath deserve praise for allowing their winger Semesa Rokoduguni to play in the match and miss their game against Northampton. The battle for the Babcock Trophy is a great bastion of amateurism and long may it continue.

The sorry case of Perpignan

When the final whistle blew at Clermont on Saturday, grown men were reduced to tears on the sideline as Perpignan's contingent realised they had made an unwanted piece of history, they had just been relegated for the first time in the club's history. Now comes the inevitable rebuilding process. A few of their players are expected to leave with Toulon waiting an insensitive number of minutes after the final whistle to announce the capture of Romain Taofifenua while Luke Charteris and James Hook, among others, are also expected to leave.

Perpignan's president Francois Riviere has since promised to spend big to get the club back in the Top 14 at the first tilt but rugby has plenty of cautionary tales surrounding getting the recruitment right or risking further setbacks.

McGeechan gets it wrong

On that subject of relegation, Sir Ian McGeechan wrote in the Sunday Telegraph that relegation in the Premiership should be scrapped. He argued "I simply cannot understand why a professional game needs relegation when you are trying to build a business". On this occasion, we feel McGeechan has got it wrong. No one has a divine right to be playing in the top flight and for some teams, as Saints and Quins showed, relegation can be the best thing that happens to a club. While he makes valid points surrounding long-term growth, relegation is an essential part of the competitiveness of the Premiership and should be kept.

The Connacht coup

The last word goes to Connacht who have secured a huge signing ahead of next season with Mils Muliaina joining on a one-year deal. Aged 33, Muliaina's bones may be creaking a little more than usual and he may find it surprising when younger wings catch him up a tad easier than he is used to, but he will bring huge experience to the province. It was interesting to see the frequent mentions of Robbie Henshaw in the press release with Leinster reportedly earmarking him as the best man to replace the retiring Brian O'Driscoll. Connacht are clearly making a point of saying he will be there next season to play alongside Muliaina.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.

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