Updated: Apr 2, 2021
A game we could and should have won, but one that we could not put away. Both teams were missing some key players and there was very little between the sides.
Our set piece was nowhere near as strong as it has been. They seemed to have a slight edge at the scrum and were very effective in spoiling our line out and stopping us making our driving maul the potent weapon it has been recently.
As conditions deteriorated the game turned into an arm wrestle and the respective strengths of the benches started to show. They brought on two pro standard back five players, which gave them a huge momentum edge in the final 15 minutes. The fact Booth chose not to even introduce our two back five forward replacements arguably speaks more than words ever can about the quality of our back-ups when everything is on the line. It was interesting to read in Sunday's Rugby Paper that Booth is targeting powerful back five forwards in terms of the target players named. Two pro standard back five players to give impact from the bench would probably have got us over the line on Boxing Day. We could not quite match the energy of the players they brought on from the bench, despite some herculean efforts from the tiring starters.
Even though they held the momentum edge in the final quarter, we had another example of the Pro 14 providing officiating and broadcasting support that is nowhere near good enough for a Professional League. It had been rumoured that the broadcasters insisted the game could not be played at St Helens due to camera positioning. Yet the camera angles they offered for the final try were nowhere near good enough, and to the naked eye the final offload from Blade looked clearly forward, even given the limited camera angles they provided. It was also shockingly poor officiating for that offload to not even reviewed by the TMO when it was the most important decision to get right in the entire 80 minutes.
We can only hope that with the big 4 South African provinces joining we will, from next season, see better officiating standards and consistent protocols, and a better broadcasting partner who gives more informative analysis and far better camera angles.