Even when you’re expecting to lose badly, it’s still quite disappointing when the expected happens. This is especially the case when the half-time score gave some hope that things wouldn’t be quite as bad as feared.
“Men against boys” is a cliché, but it’s an accurate description of what we saw out there. Wasps put out an experienced side, taking the opportunity to give some injured players game time, whilst Sale chose to do the same for academy graduates and those who’ve been on the fringes for while.
I’m not going to criticise Wasps for that: we put out strong teams the last time this competition was played. It’s a function of the ambiguous nature of the Premiership Rugby Cup that no one really knows what it’s for. Is it an A-team competition, an Academy competition, a way to rest first-team players, or is it a bit of silverware to be pursued assiduously?
It would be nice, though, if the powers-that-be had scheduled every Prem Cup game to be on an international weekend. That would have meant that the Premiership, as the main domestic competition, was made less of a lottery by minimising the number of games skewed by international call-ups.
That there are PRC games outside of internationals – not to mention games sandwiched midweek between Premiership matches – just confirms the idea that this is a competition looking for a reason to exist. Quite frankly, have a proper A-league and ditch the Prem Cup, for my money. Have a few genuinely free weekends during internationals; I’d pop up to Heywood Road (sorry – CorpAcq thingy) to watch an A-game if there was nowt else on. Or showcase the women’s game: it’s making strides, but it still seems to be treated as a second-class event.
Anyway, all this is by way of a rambling aside to avoid talking about the game.
We got beat. Stuffed, I suppose you could say, to the extent that it seems surprising that we scored four tries. As I said, men against boys, experience against callow youth, a first team against a scratch side: however you cut it, expecting any other result would have been optimism to a pathological degree.
Still hurts, though. I suppose that’s how you know you’ve really become a fan: when your scratch team loses to an experienced side in a meaningless competition and your reaction is “bugger it!”
Sale looked like a side that hadn’t played much together because that’s exactly what they were. This isn’t a criticism – everyone has to learn and now is as good a time as any. Had this been a genuine ‘A’ competition, things might have been different. As it is, Wasps saw an opportunity to get a few guys coming back from injury onto the pitch ahead of returning to the real thing. Can’t blame them for that, I’d have done the same thing.
Most of what experience we had was in the pack, and it showed. The scrum held up well, the line-out – the throws in front of the West stand, anyway; don’t mention the ones on the other side – went OK, and there was decent competition at the breakdown.
But the backs were essentially seven guys running around throwing a ball to each other. Again, this is not a criticism, just an observation about the importance of team cohesion. It’s not their fault they were thrown into this, it will only be their fault if they fail to grow a bit from the experience and learn the lessons that Wasps taught them.
There’s no point trying to single out any performances, partly because I didn’t recognise half of the players out there and partly because the very nature of the game meant that you couldn’t really make any judgements. Had it been a more equal contest, then we could say something but, when you’re being bullied around the park, simply coming out the other side is a plus.
I do want to highlight one stand-out moment, though: when Poss absolutely mullered the Wasps player (was it their fly-half?) a short while before he had to go off. We felt it from a hundred metres away. Glorious.
I suppose I should mention the referee since he’s been the subject of much debate following the game. As you know, I don’t go in for ref-bashing in these reports so I was going to watch the full replay to check my view of some of the more – shall we say? – contentious decisions. I was going to, but the replay not only didn’t have any commentary, it also didn’t have the feed from the ref’s mike, and so I couldn’t hear what he was saying about events.
So I didn’t bother watching and will refrain from comment, other than to say that I think I felt more aggrieved at some of the decisions than I would expect to be in most Premiership games. Whether that was a function of the lack of replays confirming that the ref was, in fact, correct, or if it was down a not-very-good ref, I doubt we’ll ever know.
ETA: I’ve watched the highlights (“high” – ha!) and, although there are no alternative views or slow-motion replays, I can’t see anything to complain about with the referee’s decisions. Once again, referee – 1; one-eyed supporter – 0.
Anyway, it’s done. I shouldn’t really care about a nonsense competition but I do. Let’s just move on and trust the academy system to get these young lads better prepared for future tests. Me, I’m already thinking about a weekend in Bath, staying at a 14th-century coaching inn, enjoying a lovely city, seeing old mates and having some good craic.
Oh, and a bit of rugby in there, somewhere.