Laws treated as asses

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As a competition, the Five Nations' Championship rarely lets you down. The number of contestants is about right. There is the element of unpredictability without the finality of the knock-out factor present in cup competitions. Its greatest defect is that much of it is played in appallng weather - though there are now moves, which I have been urging for years, to nudge it further towards the end of the season.

Last season Wales were lucky and ended up unexpected champions. This year Scotland have been the lucky side. This is not to deprecate the character of Gavin Hastings and his team. It is merely to point out that without luck you are nowhere.

What, even England? Surely they are about as lucky as a Chieftain tank. If you press one button, it goes forward; if you press a second, it accelerates; if you press a third, it starts to fire nasty missiles. Well, yes. But Jack Rowell has had the greatest luck of all. With the return of Jeremy Guscott from injury, and now the rude good health of Martin Bayfield, he has been able to pick the side he wants.

Alan Davies, the Welsh coach, has enjoyed no such luxury since the international season began - or, it seems, since he took over the national side. Last week I asked why my fellow-countrymen showed such a propensity to injury and failed to answer my own question. After Saturday's match Davies asked the same question and failed likewise.

At all events, he is now deprived of the services of Anthony Clement and Nigel Walker - and, for a different reason (his 60-day suspension), of the tight-head prop John Davies.

My opinion is that Davies was, well, unlucky. I have seen more dangerous uses of the boot go unpunished or dealt with by means of a warning. He seemed to me to be prodding with his toe, as if testing the bath water after a hard afternoon in the front row.

Ben Clarke, however, has no doubt that he was kicked on the head, and though the kick did him no real damage, that his assailant was rightly dismissed. This seems to be the consensus: that, once the touch-judge Patrick Robin had drawn Davies' action to the attention of the referee Didier Men (who did not see the offence), the latter had no alternative but to send Davies off.

But another consensus has also built up: that, the Neath prop having been sent off, Men was using common sense in allowing another prop, Hugh Williams-Jones, to come on instead. Williams-Jones, however, did not arrive on the field as a substitute for Davies but for Hemi Taylor, who, looking as fit as a flea seconds before, limped from the field with what appeared to be a hamstring injury.

It was a performance worthy of Sir Alec Guinness playing Long John Silver. The whole pantomime was instigated by Ieuan Evans and put on with the agreement of Will Carling and the connivance of Men.

It made a mockery of the laws of Rugby Union Football and was a disgrace to Men. For the laws are clear that a player can be replaced by a substitute only when he is injured. Taylor's non-injury was a ruse to enable Davies to be replaced by another prop, while leaving Wales' strength at 14.

The justification - which, as far as I can see, is accepted by all the pundits - is supposed to be that the front row is now such a dangerous place that only experts can play there, for all the world as if they are stuntmen who are liable to injure themselves, or perhaps brain surgeons who are liable to injure other people. Further, it is said that nothing of the kind had ever happened before and that Men was paddling in uncharted waters.

Bunkum and balderdash! At Parc des Princes on 15 February 1992, where France played England, the referee Stephen Hilditch sent off the French prop, Gregoire Lascub. He then sent off the hooker, Vincent Moscato. Though there were three French substitutions, none of them was of a hooker or prop. Luckily "Jef" Tordo, who was playing as a flanker, could fill in as hooker. A position from which he was later to captain France with some distinction.

At Cardiff the laws were broken. If they are changed, privilege cannot be confined to props. A dismissed Neil Jenkins would be replaced by. . . well, by whom? That is perhaps Wales's big problem of all.

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