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Set-piece still provides gladiatorial high drama

The referee shows the yellow card toBath prop Shaun Knight, taking the tension up another notch at Twickenham
The referee shows the yellow card toBath prop Shaun Knight, taking the tension up another notch at Twickenham

It seems a regular feature of the media to bash re-set scrums and time delays in professional rugby. The Tig, though, couldn’t hear many complaints in that prolonged period of scrummaging at Twickenham last Saturday.

The argument goes that rugby will struggle to attract new fans, especially young fans, as it searches for an expanding global audience if the game is dominated by the stop-start nature of the set-piece, especially multiple re-sets at scrum time when, to be fair, there are limited numbers of people on and off the field who know exactly why.

But in those eight minutes or so at Twickenham when the forward packs barely budged from Bath’s five-metre line, The Tig would argue that is the pure theatre we all want to see in our sport.

The tension, the focus of the two teams and the anticipation of the fans in the stadium or in front of their screens came as close as our sport could get to football’s penalty shoot-out. Any slip, any misjudgement, any lapse of concentration was going to prove costly to one side or the other.

With the succession of penalties, a warning, a yellow card, the call for a front-row replacement and the resulting shuffle of the Bath pack, followed by another warning and a couple of re-sets, the tension just got higher and higher, as did the excitement. At least for Tigers fans.

Wayne Barnes remained the calmest man in the stadium and provided one of the moments of the season when, in the heat of battle, he looked up at Dan Cole and said something along the lines of ‘I assume you’re going to go for the scrum again’ as he held one arm aloft for another penalty. The Tig couldn’t hear a reply, though it is likely that referee Barnes got ‘The Look’ that any self-respecting tighthead would provide in that situation five metres from the opposition tryline.

The Tig obviously loved it because it was Tigers on the front foot, but also because this was gladiatorial combat, it was live by the sword and die by the sword, the kind of contest that makes up a lot of what our game is about.

Eventually, the ball came out and Tigers spread play against outnumbered opposition to score through Adam Thompstone in the corner.

t took seven-and-a-half minutes to break the deadlock from the original penalty, which is undoubtedly the longest The Tig has ever held its breath!