Amlin Challenge Cup 2014: Three talking points as Saints beat Quins
Amlin Challenge Cup 2014: Three talking points as Northampton Saints are
Saints defend semi-final record
For the first time in the competition’s history, all four semi-finalists—Saints, Harlequins, London Wasps and Bath—are previous Challenge Cup champions, with another all-English final guaranteed in the Welsh capital next month. The first of the semi-finals, between Saints and Quins, was always likely to be a close affair. Both clubs want to win silverware and, in spite of their Aviva Premiership ambitions, value the Challenge Cup as worth winning after dropping down from the Heineken Cup after the Pool stages. Neither club had lost a Challenge Cup semi-final—Saints defeating Saracens in 2009 on their way to winning the tournament, while Quins had progressed in 2001, 2004 and 2011, also winning in the finals. It wasn’t the most attractive game of rugby on a wet and windy night in the east Midlands, but Saints produced a superb defensive performance to snuff out the numerous Quins threats, no mean feat when up against elusive England duo Mike Brown and Danny Care, and their strength in depth from the bench—bringing on England trio Tom Woods, Luther Burrell and Courtney Lawes for the final quarter—ultimately made the difference as Quins’ big names departed early.
Yellows in the air
Saints wing Jamie Elliott became the latest player to fall foul of the new IRB directive on mid-air collisions as he was sent to the sin-bin by Irish referee George Clancy with just 3:28 on the clock for a ‘dangerous’ tackle on Harlequins full-back Mike Brown, sending the England star hip-first into the Franklin’s Gardens turf. There were echoes of Ulster full-back Jared Payne’s challenge on his Saracens opposite number Alex Goode in the opening stages of their Heineken Cup quarter-final earlier this month, but at least Brown didn’t land on his head. Despite that, after considering the replays to check how the tackled player had landed—a key part of the directive—a yellow was produced rather than a red, which was shown to Payne. It remains to be seen whether Elliott’s challenge will be flagged by the citing commissioner as was the case on Sunday in the RaboDirect Pro12 when Scarlets full-back Liam Williams received a yellow for a mid-air collision with Alex Cuthbert. The Wales international was subsequently handed a two-week ban after a disciplinary hearing in Dublin on Thursday. Inevitably, the line that will be rolled out again will be: there is “an onus on the tackling player to ensure the safety of the player in the air.” Referees have been told to clamp down on it to protect players from serious injury and only the landing of the challenged player, rather than intent, determines whether the card shown is yellow or red.
Any reason I Kahn’t award the try?
Danny Care has been one of the in-form scrum-halves in English rugby in recent months, but former Ospreys nine Kahn Fotuali’i came out on top at Franklin’s Gardens as he showcased his vision and skill with a superb performance which gave the Saints the platform to come out on top. Just metres from the Quins line just before the half-hour mark, with referee Clancy playing advantage, the usually right-footed Fotuali’i hit a cross-field chip with his left into the left corner for the onrushing teenager Tom Collins to collect and slide down for the game’s opening try, a move which would probably have seen usual left winger George North finish had the Wales star not gone off and been replaced by Collins six minutes earlier. Fotuali’i jumped all over a loose ball for the second try, sprinting away from a trio of chasing Quins. Again—as was the case for all three tries in the match—Clancy went to the TMO for a decision, suspecting an infringement at the breakdown, only for generous Scottish TMO Jim Yuille to report that there was “no clear and obvious reason” why the try couldn’t be awarded, despite replays showing Fotuali’i had feathered the ball forward with a fingertip before it bounced and he collected it. Usually on duty in a TV truck for the RaboDirect Pro12, it is the second non-try Yuille has given in as many matches after allowing Mark Bennett’s effort for Glasgow Warriors to stand in their clash with Ulster last week, despite replays showing the ball was lost before grounding. With any luck, Pro12 referees’ shirt sponsor Specsavers will have sorted him out by the time he gets back to Scotland for the Pro12 Glasgow-Edinburgh derby on Saturday night.