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Monday Maul
What price player welfare?
Tom Hamilton
May 12, 2014
The Florian Fritz incident has caused outcry © Getty Images
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The latest Monday Maul looks back at a weekend of rugby that included concussion controversy, returning Lions and a sold-out Sevens bonanza.

Florian Fritz incident shows negligence for player welfare in its worst light

On Friday night, Racing Metro saw off Toulouse to book their place in the semi-finals of the Top 14 for the first time in the club's history. It should have been a time for celebration but instead the game was tarnished by an ugly incident involving Toulouse centre Florian Fritz in the first-half.

In the 19th minute, Fritz was on the wrong end of a Francois van der Merwe's tackle and was left dazed and bloodied. Despite all the evident signs pointing towards a serious concussion, Fritz was back on the field around 16 minutes later. Fritz was then taken off at half-time and later admitted he could not remember much of the incident.

Reports have since suggested the IRB has asked the French Rugby Federation to look into the matter. It is not right to speculate exactly why or how he got back on to the field but whatever the reason, it was wrong. During the third Lions Test last July George Smith somehow played on after being knocked out and it rightly caused outcry. Since then the issue of concussion, and its dangers, has been thrust into the spotlight like never before.

Friday night's incident showed there is still work to be done, as Rory Lamont told ESPN, as Fritz's health seemed of secondary importance to the team. Player welfare must come first over anything else.

Fantastic second-tier rugby

The two first legs of the Championship semi-finals were both belting games with two masterful kicking displays on show. On Saturday Juan Pablo Socino nearly gave Rotherham a shock win at Bristol but in the end it was Andy Robinson's men who came away with a narrow three-point advantage heading into next weekend's second-leg. And on Sunday, Leeds and London Welsh battled out a thriller at Headingley with credit deserving to be handed to Leeds' kicking fly-half Glyn Hughes and their fantastic winger Jonah Holmes.

England's hooking crisis

Weekend's awards

  • Player: Chris Robshaw with Dave Attwood a close second
  • Try: Jonny May's against Worcester, an incredible solo effort
  • Coach: Conor O'Shea, Harlequins
  • Controversial decision: Both Sarries and Leicester said it was wrong to send off Justin Melck
  • Quote: "Wasps sent a weak side with their minds on next week and we are not daft enough to think otherwise." - Saints boss Jim Mallinder was not getting carried away after hammering Wasps

England are now down to the bare bones at hooker but Stuart Lancaster would have take heart from the performances from Dave Ward, Jamie George, Luke Cowan-Dickie at the weekend. Ward helped his side Harlequins get one over his former employers Bath at the Stoop while George captained Saracens at Leicester. And Cowan-Dickie, who played in front of the watching Lancaster at Kingston Park, scored a try and did well in the set piece.

As things stand, depending on who gets to the final of the Aviva Premiership, Ward has a good chance of playing that first Test against New Zealand on June 7 and as Conor O'Shea said to ESPN this week, if he does get the nod it is living proof that hard work can eventually lead to even the most unlikely of international call-ups.

Wonderful Worcester

Even though they were dead and relegated, Worcester finished the season on a high with a morale-boosting win over Gloucester. Dean Ryan said all along this would be a hard season for his Warriors but even though they are relegated to the Championship, he will have a chance to rebuild the foundations, reinvigorate the academy and build a team he feels is capable of looking down the table in the future rather than up it.

The return of two Lions

Northampton's Alex Corbisiero goes on a run, Northampton Saints v London Wasps, Aviva Premiership, Franklin's Gardens, Northampton, May 10, 2014
Alex Corbisiero back in action © Getty Images
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After difficult seasons on a personal level, it was great to see Alex Corbisiero, who has been out since November, and Tom Croft, who last played in September, back on the field at the weekend. Neither will travel to New Zealand in the summer with England but both will benefit from summers off after playing their part in the Lions' triumph in 2013. Both, you expect, will be key players for England come the World Cup and while this summer could be ugly viewing from a red rose point of view, they will reap the long-term benefits of resting a few key players.

Quins hit form at the perfect time

It would take a brave individual to bet against O'Shea's men as they booked a place in their third straight play-offs. They have strung together five league wins on the bounce and due to solid squad management from Harlequins' management the players are looking fresh and keen to add to their 2012 Premiership crown.

The history breakers

After 77 games unbeaten at their Stade Marcel Michelin home, Clermont's incredible record eventually came unstuck as Castres came away from their barrage game with a 22-16 win, with Rory Kockott in imperious form. While this result will hurt for a while, it could be the perfect scenario for incoming coach Jono Gibbes who takes charge next season. That previous record will not sit heavy on his shoulders and instead he will start with a clean slate.

Glasgow deserve credit

While Edinburgh seem keen to sell most of their Scottish talent, Glasgow have had a remarkable season in the PRO12 as they finished in second. Despite Scotland's miserable Six Nations campaign, the Warriors' form has shown there are reasons for optimism north of the border. They finished the campaign with a 54-0 thrashing of Zebre with a team consisting of 19 Scottish players in their 23-man squad.

Sevens on the big stage

Walking around London on Saturday morning, there is a good chance you would have bumped into a few questionably dressed individuals who appeared to be donning monster costumes. Twickenham was a sea of colour and variety over the weekend as the organisers of the London Sevens adopted a monsters theme. Credit must go to the relevant stakeholders for selling out the first day of the tournament well in advance as the packed crowd witnessed New Zealand win an incredible 12th series title in 15 years.

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

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