It's certainly been a rollercoaster this season. We saw Harlequins do the Men's and Women's double in the league, and we saw no relegations for the first time in, well, forever. Although a lot of folks bemoaned the void that the Saracens left whilst others felt that it was a welcomed change at the top of the Premiership heirarchy, my overwhelming response to this season has been one of, what just happened...?
I don't know whether it was Rugby exhaustion from having two seasons worth of Premiership action pretty much running concurrently over the last eighteen months, or whether it was just having to cover a season with so, so, so much happening off of the pitch. This was a vintage season, with some of the best semi-final and finals we've seen in recent memory, but even though it's been a week since it all came to an end, it feels like it's still bloody well going.
Why has this been such a weird season?
5. The Wasps Injury Crisis
As a Wasps supporter myself, this season will be one every fan will want to forget. I'm not blaming that on players, or efforts or any off the field politics, I'm blaming it purely on their rotten luck with injuries. Every season, Wasps go through an absolute injury crisis despite having a surprisingly deep squad (from a numbers perspective). It's not necessarily just the fact of having to cope with a injury in the starting XV, it's the severity of those injuries and who it's happening to. Paolo Odogwu out with an ACL, Jack Willis out with an ACL, Joe Launchbury out with an ACL, you genuinely can't make it up! Thomas Young spent most of the season out injured, Ryan Mills didn't play a game all season, Vukasinovic played one match and got injured for the rest of the season, Wasps have had 6, maybe 7, season ending injuries happen to their starting XV. It's a miracle that they managed to stay competitive towards the back end of the season and somehow managed to land in a final European slot.
4. Worcester Rejecting Fans
What was this about? Every club in the Premiership made the conscious decision to delay their games by a day so that fans could finally watch them back in stadiums after 12 months of being stuck indoors... Well, every club but Worcester. The Wasps vs Worcester clash towards the end of the season was given the option to be played in front of fans at the then-Ricoh Arena, only for Worcester to reject the idea late in the day. It was a really poor showing by a club that had already given their fans little to cheer about that season. Needless to say, a pumped up Wasps side, depleted by injury, still turned over a pretty weak showing by Worcester side who had an extra man advantage due to a silly red card. Justice maybe?
3. 8 Disallowed Tries in One Game
Bristol vs Gloucester was only going to end one way when played in front of hungry fans at Ashton Gate during the west country - side's rise to prominence. Although Gloucester offered some pretty tricky scenarios over the first quarter, Bristol found their gear and started cutting them to ribbons. Sinckler crashed over, but appeals to the TMO meant that it had to be reviewed, in super slow motion (1 frame a second at this point) you could potentially see a pixel of air between hand and ball, but to be fair, that would even be pushing it. But the try was disallowed. Then we saw another forward crash over, but the try was deemed as held up, even though there was an angle showing it the player in a position of which the ball could only be on the deck. This happened over and over until Malins eventually dotted down... Case closed right? Nope, we went on to have another 5 disallowed tries due to TMO interference, and bearing in mind this was the first match I had seen in a pub in over year, I had totally checked out.
2. Red Cards Galore
That new tackle perspective... What do we think? Yeah, that's opening up a can of worms, but from a disciplinary point of view, teams were definitely shocked into changing their ways. We wrote in our Top 5: Disappointments of the Season article that the fact that have been 18 red cards shown (compared to just the one in Super Rugby Aotearoa) this season, and 19 yellow cards shown on one Premiership weekend, proves that maybe, just maybe, we need to re-evaluate what is entertainment, what is safety and what needs to change to prevent this happening ever again. It's all well and good wearing this hyper-active penalisation badge as proof that you are acting on the pitch, but if you're doing this every weekend... Maybe something should change at club level?
1. Short-Term Memory
If I was to define what I felt was really hampering our view on Rugby this season, it would be short-term memory. Boy oh boy are we quick to cancel players after one subpar game, only to put them in the international picture after they've proved us wrong the next game. Look at Marcus Smith's season for an excellent example. Basically forgotten at the start of the season as Quin's struggled under Gustard with folks piggybacking off of the baseless claims that he was going to throw it all in and play over in France, only to have a decent run of form and people put respect back on his name. Then Quins played against Leicester in their pomp, with George Ford putting in a vintage performance and everyone stated that Smith was a one trick pony who had been outclassed by England's definitive ten (this changes every week by the way). Then Marcus Smith leads a Quins domination of Wasps, putting forty on the men in black and gold and everyone re-labels him the best 10 in the league. Christ, even in the first half of that Bristol game, fans were calling for him to be taken off because his 'head wasn't in it' only for him to inspire a second half comeback and be labelled the new messiah. He has the top points tally in the league, he's in the top half of tackle percentages of backs in the league (84% is still nearly 20% higher than someone like Freddie Stewards) and has been remarkable for a 22 year old. What hurt this season, was seeing fans actively turn away from the game because of one weekend of mishaps, I know this short-term memory exists in many other sports, but we need to do better!