Jenkins' treatment proves the law is an ass

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The Independent Online

Things may look quite different by the new year. But at this stage of the Heineken Cup it is a fair bet that those teams that have gained maximum points so far will make the next stage, even though they may have dropped a couple of points by then; whereas the teams that have no points at all will require minor miracles to achieve further progress.

Things may look quite different by the new year. But at this stage of the Heineken Cup it is a fair bet that those teams that have gained maximum points so far will make the next stage, even though they may have dropped a couple of points by then; whereas the teams that have no points at all will require minor miracles to achieve further progress.

In the last group there are three surprises: Castres, Northampton, last year's winners, and Toulouse, perhaps the outstanding European Cup club of the last decade. Altogether the French have not sparkled, except intermittently. Not only that, but two of their leading clubs are without any points at all. Further, not one French side have gained maximum points. Those that have number three English teams, one Scottish, one Irish, and one Welsh: respectively Gloucester, Leicester and Saracens, Edinburgh Reivers, Munster and Swansea.

Here there are three surprises: Gloucester, Edinburgh and, it must be said, Swansea who, despite their glorious tradition of success against visiting touring sides at St Helens, have not so far done themselves justice in European competitions.

Saturday's game with Stade Français, the rain sheeting in from the Bristol Channel, may not have been a classic but it was certainly an epic. It impelled Jonathan Davies, the BBC's summariser, to confess that he could not understand why anyone should actually want to play in the front row.

Ben Evans, Garin Jenkins and Darren Morris had the game of their lives. If Arwell Thomas was not to be made man of the match - the award went to Mark Taylor before Thomas had struck two of his unbelievable drop goals - I thought the most deserving recipient was Morris, closely followed by Andy Moore. But then, how often do you see a man of the match award going to a front-row or even a second-row forward?

Jenkins was unlucky to be sent to the sin-bin by Ed Morrison, who did not have a good match, playing an extra 10 minutes of injury time which was not remotely justified. Morrison had been booed off the field long before that, at half-time.

I must say my sympathies were with the Swansea crowd. I am not - or I hope I am not - writing this because I was born a cricket ball's throw down the road at the St Helens Nursing Home. I look forward to the day when time-keeping is taken out of the referees hands entirely and given to an official in the stand, who can sound a hooter as in rugby league.

But perhaps we should not be too harsh with the referee for being as severe as he was with Jenkins. He was merely applying the law. And here, as in so many other areas, the law is an ass. It is often physically impossible for a defending player either to get out of the way or to retreat when a tap penalty is taken. Jenkins may be a walking provocation but he is not a natural actor. He was genuinely puzzled by the yellow card. The solution is either to acknowledge reality or - my own preference - to insist on an interval allowing the defending side to retreat 10 metres before the tap is made. That would inevitably slow up the game, which it is the modern law-givers' misconceived object to avoid whatever the cost.

I am even prepared to defend Morrison's sending-off of Colin Charvis, while allowing his fellow-combatant Diego Dominguez to stay on the field. What happened was that Dominquez kicked Charvis from what Madam Speaker calls a sedentary position, as Charvis was trying to help him back on his feet. No doubt piqued by such a display of ingratitude, the big flanker then felled the small outside-half with a fine left hook. The moral is that you should not hit people smaller than yourself: a point I once made forcefully to Peter Winterbottom after a Rosslyn Park v Harlequins match.

The displays of Thomas for Swansea and of Neil Jenkins for Cardiff against Toulouse have rekindled the great Welsh outside-halfdebate. It is always going on in one form or another. Few people now remember that Barry John had his chance when David Watkins joined rugby league, and that Phil Bennett had his chance when John retired at 27.

Jenkins has been blamed for years in my native land simply for the misfortune not to be one of these great players. The administrators of the southern hemisphere look on in genuine puzzlement. They say that if they had Jenkins at their disposal his would be the first name to be pencilled in.

Even so, there is no doubt that Thomas has been treated less than generously by Graham Henry, the Wales coach, mainly on account of his size, or lack of it. But as Scott Gibbs commented after the match, Dominguez is not really very big either. Nor were Watkins and Bennett. The current rules about substitutes enable a coach to suspend judgement. There is every reason for Henry to bring Thomas on in internationals much morefrequently than he has done if Jenkins is out of sorts.

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