Ruck and Maul: Blackett shows video nasty to Venter – but did he take the biscuit?

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The Independent Online

A week of building bridges for Judge Jeff Blackett, the Rugby Football Union's disciplinary officer. On Tuesday he visited Saracens' training ground to deliver a video presentation to Brendan Venter and his squad on eye-gouging, stamping and spear-tackling – and the penalties players can expect for them. Blackett has made a similar presentation at Leicester, whose director of rugby, Richard Cockerill, like Venter, was banned by the RFU beak last season. "There was a good feeling when Jeff left, between him, Edward Griffiths [Saracens' chief executive], myself and the players," Venter told Ruck and Maul. "Saracens are an English club and contrary to popular belief we are proud of that and we don't want to be any kind of rogue." The rapprochement began a fortnight earlier over a coffee shared by Venter and Blackett at Heathrow. And, no, we don't know if there were biscuits. Venter, by the way, gave a presentation of his own in Hertfordshire last February, around the time of his first suspension for impugning referees. The topic? Rugby's core values – and it went down a storm at a conference of coaches from 21 sports.

Judge slams JPR body-check

The day before his Saracens visit, Blackett was a guest at a gala lunch in London for the 50th anniversary of the Rugby Union Writers' Club, joining 130 journalists and great players from down the decades including Jackie Kyle, Richard Sharp, JPR Williams, Sir Clive Woodward and Keith Wood. The famous body-check by JPR on France's Jean-François Gourdon that helped Wales win the 1976 Grand Slam was submitted to Judge Jeff. "A penalty try and three-week ban," was the verdict – 34 years too late to save the French – whereas Wood had an old hooker's take on things. "It's hard to be fully legal in rugby. At times it's self-policing. You can't be too PC."

Saints clash is one to flag up

Will this afternoon's Premiership meeting between Saracens and Northampton pass off peacefully? Sarries ruffled a few feathers with their plan to run a club flag to the top of the lift-testing tower next to Franklin's Gardens and their songs in the dressing-rooms when they won twice in three weeks away to today's opponents last April and May. No England player got through more work last season than Chris Ashton, with 36 appearances for club and country, but the in-form wing fell to earth when his right foot got twisted under Bath's Andy Beattie at the Gardens nine days ago. Ashton will miss today's match and it is uncertain how long he will be absent. Coincidentally, he and the rest of the senior England elite player squad must rest for one fixture in the next four weeks, unless Martin Johnson decides they can play. "We can't just rely on the Ashtons and the [Ben] Fodens," said Jim Mallinder, the Northampton coach. "They are going to miss 15 games of the season if they are in the England performance squad."

Charlie plays it by the book

Charlie Charters, the chief executive of the Pacific Islanders from 2004 to 2006, is believed to be the first rugby union chief executive officer to make it into print as a thriller writer after the publication of his debut novel, 'Bolt Action'. If the plot has as many twists as his attempts to find a place for Fiji, Samoa and Tonga at Test rugby's top table, it should be a page-turner.

hughgodwin@yahoo.co.uk

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