Who Really Deserves the Sympathy?
As an ardent Saints (that’s Northampton not Southampton) fan I was as disappointed as anyone when they failed again to win the Championship and especially in losing to our arch rivals Leicester.
It is sad that all of the noise and angst has been centred on the sending off of Dylan Harley who now being portrayed as the “innocent abroad” and victim of cheating by the Leicester forwards and a conspiracy against him which includes the referee Wayne Barnes.
The problem of course is that while the Saints management and squad publicly support Dylan the reality is that he does have a record for a lack of discipline and good judgement both on and off of the field.
Perhaps, if he appeals and fails to win, missing out on the Lions Tour may be the point at which he starts to address what seems to be a propensity for self-destruction and become the great player that his potential suggests he could be.
I hope he does appeal because a failure to appeal will give the impression that he is admitting the offence which will raise a whole number of other questions.
I may be a lone voice but having been involved in rugby for more years than I care to remember and had the opportunity and privilege to coach some great players there were things that all rugby players should have instilled into them from very early on.
The main one being that rugby is a collision contact sport and the focus on the field should always be around control and especially controlled aggression and individual and team discipline. The words that were constantly reinforced in players were discipline, aggression, control and silence.
Discipline was not simply around not giving penalties away it was not talking back to the referee, (no matter how much you disagreed with them) but also most importantly recognising the state of the play and when to give away a “professional penalty”.
Sometimes you simply have to take one for the team.
Discipline was also around knowing and managing the referee and if the referee tells you to ‘keep quiet’ you listen, shut up and pass the talking role onto someone else in the team as previous Saints teams and captains have done in the past.
We actually had a ‘rota’ of players who talked to the referee.
Cheating? – of course it is, but as coaches it was dressed up as being professional which is why to accuse the opposition of cheating because they do it better than you and get away with it is quite frankly pathetic.
Wayne Barnes insists that when Dylan said “you’re a f*****g cheat it was aimed at him.
Dylan claims it was aimed at his opposite number on the Leicester team.
The RFU disciplinary committee decided in favour of the referee, and of course we don’t know what evidence was produced but of one thing I am certain, and that is that Jeff Blackett a highly respected judge who was incidentally no mean centre himself would have based his judgement on the evidence.
The problem with the whole issue is that it appears players, management and supporters are acting like those who in the past we have gone to great pains to say we’re not like.
In other words those connected with football.
So does Dylan really deserve the level of sympathy he is getting?
What about the Saints supporters who turn up week after week to support the team and who it has been proved in the past even when the club have gone through difficult times still turn out?
What about the rest of the squad who had to play against the most successful club in England with a man short in the most important game of the season?
They all in my view deserve an apology from Dylan.
But the people who in my view really deserve our sympathy are Keith and Leon Barwell who have put their heart and soul not to mention a huge amount of funding into turning the Saints and Franklin Gardens into one of the best rugby clubs in the world.
Keith and Leon deserved to be rewarded with a Championship and sadly this is another opportunity that has been missed.
The positive is of course that in sport the opportunity may come again, the negative is that the competition is getting tougher very year.
So roll on next season.
Footnote:- I understand that the Ed Morrison who used to be given a ‘special welcome’ every time he refereed at the Gardens has phoned Wayne Barnes and congratulated him on taking his mantle as the most disliked referee in Northampton.