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Owen Doyle: Unacceptable face of rugby was on full show over the weekend

Gibson-Park should’ve seen red as too many brutal collisions went far beyond legal limits

A weekend of rugby that was more than worth the ticket price, and very likely to be followed by another. It had pretty much everything and was true edge of the seat stuff. The intensity levels could not have been one notch higher, not one player took a backward step, it was ferociously competitive.

However, too many brutal collisions went far beyond legal limits, showing again the unacceptable face of rugby. This column’s hopes for a weekend with zero foul play were tossed into the dangerous tackling bonfire as early as close of business on Friday night. It can’t continue, or so we have said, but it does.

Leinster went to Galway and were fortunate to bring back a credit note, to the value of five points, for the return in the Aviva. Connacht coach, Andy Friend, has a very legitimate question as to why the visitors finished the match with 15 men. Jamison Gibson-Park only received a yellow card for his shoulder contact to the face of Kieran Marmion.

Referee Karl Dickson seemed to talk himself down from the 'red,' arguing that Gibson-Park did not step forward to make the tackle - some precedent that - and neither was the force sufficient to merit the ultimate sanction.

Any player who has the capacity to complete such an act, with all its potential for catastrophic injury, must be held fully to account

Marmion’s bloodied, injured face and his expression told a very different tale. He will undoubtedly have seen some stars while Gibson-Park had lucky ones of his own to thank for the referee’s interpretation.

At the same time as that was taking place, Jeremy Davidson's Brive were on the receiving end of an almighty thrashing against Saracens, 5-55, in the Challenge Cup. The match was long lost when Alex Muller mowed down Saracens' Ben Harris after the latter had delivered a scoring pass. It was an ill-tempered disgrace, and just good fortune that there was not a serious injury.

Let’s see if the judiciary can bring themselves to conclude that this one was deliberate.

Nonsense

There was more nonsense in Toulouse, when Ulster's Ben Moxham, jumping for the ball, was crashed into by Juan Cruz Mallia who had no chance of competing. The Ulsterman landed on his head and neck and it was no surprise that he could not continue. Wayne Barnes handled it well, and the home team played all of 70 minutes with 14 men.

Apart from being down a man Toulouse were curiously out of sorts, including Antoine Dupont who was trying to do too much. Only in the final quarter did they put some typical pace and straight line running into their attack, nearly pulling off an unlikely win.

And so to Robert Baloucoune’s intercept try which every home supporter will swear, on the tomb of their ancestors, was offside. The TV angles, however, weren’t great, and did not demonstrate it conclusively enough for the officials. But we’ve often seen tight defensive offsides called by referees and their assistants with no reference to the TMO needed - not this time though.

By the time Barnes concluded affairs, none of the officials had exactly endeared themselves to the local patrons of France’s wonderful Pink City, who left them in absolutely no doubt as to their feelings.

Nonetheless, it was a very good day for Dan McFarland's men. They took down the champions in their own back yard, a first in that arena for donkey's years. Ulster will now fancy their chances at home, a cracker is awaited.

Appalling foul play continued in Paris meanwhile. Stade Francais' Tongan hooker, Tolu Latu, ran through the legs of Racing's secondrow Baptiste Chouzenoux who was high in the air at the time. It was horrific, no other word. Chouzenoux was flipped over, his heavy head first landing knocked him senseless leaving an easy red card decision for Luke Pearce.

Catastrophic

Any player who has the capacity to complete such an act, with all its potential for catastrophic injury, must be held fully to account. It’s impossible to see how Latu can face anything but a very long time out of rugby.

The final red of the weekend came in the final match, Clermont v Leicester, and it might well be the subject of debate. A clash of heads off the ball met the criteria, but some may feel that the calm Georgian referee, Nika Amashukeli, had another option here.

In Sandy Park, Munster were under the cosh for much of the first half, hanging on grimly they managed to turn around just 10 points behind. Then marvellous defence in the closing stages denied Exeter a substantial lead for their trip to Thomond Park.

Having come under intense scrutiny early on from Frenchman, Pierre Brousset, Munster will be happy that the referee had no problem reducing Exeter to 13 for yellow card offences, the second for a 'one-off' cynical killing of the ball.

It's a real shame that such a genuine, deeply felt, understandable lack of enthusiasm exists amongst the Munster support

That was in contrast to Matt Carley's liberal interpretation of Ronan O'Gara's La Rochelle continuously infringing on their own goal line, with no card in sight. This included, as the referee said himself, three penalty advantages in one sequence of attacking play by Bordeaux-Begles.

With Exeter reduced to 13 players, Munster at last managed a back move worthy of the name, which produced their only try, underlining the weakness of their attack which previously had been ineffectively blunt against a full complement.

The return leg will see Exeter start with with a five point lead, and the home team will need to be firing on all cylinders. Perhaps both the Thomond roar, and the crowd will fill the stadium once again, how good it would be to see that atmosphere come back.

It’s a real shame that such a genuine, deeply felt, understandable lack of enthusiasm exists amongst the Munster support. Apart from the financial issues, and a lack of overall clear provincial direction, the team have failed to give the crowd reason to raise the rafters. The problems around having a soon to depart head coach can’t be underestimated either.

Yet, there is a sneaking feeling that, if the players take ownership of their own destiny, we could, just maybe, be on the brink of a special day when next Saturday afternoon in Limerick comes around.