Even Saracens couldn’t hold out two men down, conceding two tries within the 10 minutes Clark was occupying the seat of shame to fall behind, but back they came.
If Saracens could distill the spirit they need to be shown for the past decade that helps them turn adversity into gain, then bottle it, they might not need handouts – as long as the cap fitted. There they were at Ospreys last Saturday, one man down after four minutes, when the Welsh prop Rhys Carré, on his first return to Wales since joining the Premiership and European champions from Cardiff Blues, was sent off for a high tackle.
But they were led by the 34th-minute when Calum Clark was sent to the sin-bin for handling the ball on the ground.
They weren’t playing one among the stronger sides within the tournament, although Ospreys were fortified by the return of Alun Wyn Jones: the Wales captain was making his introduction since the planet Cup and not only looked as if he was match-hardened but had had a blood infusion to form him 10 years younger, roaming the field to telling effect and showing off a way of climbing into a challenge then offloading one-handed.
Saracens have donned sackcloth and ashes since being fined quite £5m and docked 35 Premiership points for breaking salary cap regulations in two of the three seasons before the present one.The club initially contested the ruling but even though the written judgment has not been made public and neither side has gone into detail, they appear guilty of trying to take advantage of a loophole without checking, failing to recognize the spirit of the days had changed.
For most clubs, the loss of 35 points would be a relegation sentence but Saracens aren’t among the favorites to travel down. they’re still in contention for an area within the quarter-finals of the European Champions Cup despite resting the overwhelming majority of their internationals of their three away matches within the group, at Racing 92, Munster and Ospreys.
They were well beaten in Paris, but secured a bonus point in Limerick and left Swansea with a victory their director of rugby, Mark McCall, not one given to hyperbole, described as remarkable.
And it was. A side without Maro Itoje, the Vunipola brothers, Jamie George, Owen Farrell, Elliot Daly, Brad Barritt, Liam Williams, Ben Spencer and Duncan Taylor found how to win. It had been a performance that fitted the wet and windy conditions, pragmatic and disciplined, and owed much to players like Clark who may become, through no fault of their own, victims of Saracens’ got to cuts costs within the coming months to make sure they’re not over the cap this season.
McCall didn’t quibble about Carré’s dismissal even though the insistence of the referee, Alexandre Ruiz, that the prop had made contact with the top of the Ospreys’ full-back Dan Evans wasn’t protected by one point of view. The disciplinary committee that gave the prop a three-week ban backed the official.
That Carré went high, during a double challenge with Nick Isiekwe, wasn’t in doubt and the prevailing trend is for referees to send off offenders instead of sending them to the sin-bin and leave it to the citing officer to decide whether an incident merits greater punishment.
That will change under a World Rugby law experiment which will be trialed in Super Rugby and the Top 14 in France from the start of next month. Referees will issue players with warnings for top tackles during this year’s Super Rugby competition. When two high-risk tackle technique warnings are issued, a player will automatically receive a one-match suspension. Under it, Carré would probably have remained on the field at the Liberty Stadium.
The crackdown on high tackles has been prompted by a determination to lower concussion rates: during the last Under-20 Championship, when the two-warning system was reduced, head injuries fell by quite 50%. If the trial at senior level works, a more drastic innovation, outlawing tackles above waist level, might not be included within the law book: it’s being trialed at youth level and in women’s competitions and effectively eradicates doubt while reducing the danger of offloading.
Another plan to reduce the number of collisions is the 50:22 kick, which is being tested in America’s rugby championship, South Africa’s Varsity Cup and Italy’s Top 12. If a player kicks the ball from his half and it bounces into touch within the opposition’s 22, his side gets the throw-in. The aim is to tempt teams to travel for touch instead of keeping the ball live and cut the chance of concussion by lowering the tackle count.
Another amendment being looked at is the introduction of an infringement limit for teams, measured in penalties and free-kicks. Once a team has reached the amount allowed, a yellow card is automatically shown to the subsequent offender. Someone will need to keep count and does an offense considered to merit an immediate yellow (or red) card reduce the tally to zero?
It could take a team 75 minutes or more to succeed in the tally but does that mean that if they provide away three penalties in quick succession defending their line that there’s no yellow card? A referee is the best judge of the mood of a match but their discretion continues to be eroded.