Leinster happy to avail of the benefit of the doubt
FROM THE BLINDSIDE:Like Munster in their heyday, champions Leinster are now tending to get the majority of the 50-50 decisions when the referee has to make a big call
WHEN MUNSTER played Saracens at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry back in 2008, we were at the very top of our game. We had just beaten Gloucester on their own patch in the quarter-final and we were on our way to our second Heineken Cup win in three seasons. We were playing some good rugby and we had momentum. A lot of people felt that we were favourites to win the competition even before we played in the semi-final.
Right at the very end of that game, we were two points ahead but Saracens were throwing the kitchen sink at us. We were defending close to our own 22 and we knew it was all down to the last possession of the game. Richard Hill came at us with a pick and drive and when the tackles came in on him, the ball was slow in coming back.
To everyone’s eyes, there was obviously something illegal going on in that ruck. Either Hill was holding on to the ball to stop us getting our hands on it or we were holding on to him to stop him getting it back quickly. One way or the other, Nigel Owens was going to blow his whistle.
The relief when he blew it up and pointed his arm in our direction was huge. It was as clear as day that he could just as easily have gone the other way with it.
We knew it, Saracens knew it, in fairness I’d say Nigel knew it. It’s very harsh to say that call decided the game because there were 79 minutes of play that came before it and it had been one of those days where we’d have felt a lot of calls had gone against us.
But it’s a near certainty that if he’d given that one to Saracens, we’d have gone out of the Heineken Cup. It was a 50-50 call and we were blessed to come out on the right side of it.
I was thinking about this on Saturday in the closing stages of Leinster’s game against Exeter. With the scores at 6-6 around the 68th minute, Richardt Strauss came in from the side of a breakdown for what looked to me to be a fairly straightforward penalty call in Exeter’s favour.
The referee didn’t give it and Leinster turned over the ball. Five minutes later, Leinster were awarded just as obvious a penalty up the other end of the pitch and Johnny Sexton put them 9-6 ahead. It was a big call and it went in favour of the team that is going for three titles in a row.