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Harlequins 21 Worcester Warriors 20
REFEREES - they always polarise opinions among rugby fans, but each and every one seems to be lambasted by Warriors supporters as ‘the worst in the league’.
That scathing assessment no doubt follows Worcester’s latest Aviva Premiership defeat when supporters of the Sixways club feel their side has been given short shrift by the man in the middle.
Saturday’s trip to Harlequins was no different and, after the bitterly disappointing one-point defeat, my twitter account lit up with Warriors fans blaming the loss squarely on the shoulders of Wayne Barnes.
However, if you were actually at the game and are prepared to review the contest in an impartial manner, it is impossible to argue that Barnes was poor.
He went to the TMO when Ryan Lamb was bodychecked by Quins flanker Maurie Fa’asavalu and the decision was that no offence had been committed. On that call, I disagree and feel it looked like it should have been a penalty in the Warriors fly-half’s favour.
Other than that, Barnes had a great game. Supporters often let the way in which the game transpires cloud their judgement of the officiating and many people were saying Warriors lost because Barnes whistled them off the park.
That was not the case. In the first-half, the penalty count was 8-1 in Worcester’s favour up until the final few minutes when Warriors were penalised three times in quick succession in the build up to Quins’ only three points of the half.
After the break, the hosts finally woke up and began to play their usual brand of rugby, which Warriors were unable to live with and, consequently, began haemorrhaging penalties.
With the clock dead, Worcester were whistled against at a breakdown allowing Quins to boot the ball off for full-time and that decision from Barnes edged the penalty count to 11-10 in the home side’s favour – hardly a massive imbalance.
Referees are also often criticised for taking too long over decisions in consultation with the TMO, while the scrum remains an absolute farce that drains endless minutes out of games. However, neither of these scourges of the modern game can be blamed on the official as he is simply carrying out orders from above.
At half-time at The Stoop, Warriors fans were daring to dream that the elusive first Aviva Premiership win of the season might be on the cards as their side led 13-3.
But it was not to be, unfortunately, and in hindsight there was no way Quins could play as badly as they did in the first 40 minutes for the second-half.
Conor O’Shea’s men duly bucked their ideas up and Warriors couldn’t live with the new-found pace and intensity.
The hosts turned the screw with their power-packed driving line-out, which forced Worcester to pile in extra men in a bid to counter it. However, this left the visitors exposed in midfield and the Quins backs were able to run riot.
One small positive that can be taken from the defeat, which marked one whole year since Worcester last won in the league, was the performance of Quins’ Sixways-bound Sam Smith.
O’Shea admitted he wasn’t happy to see the young winger leave The Stoop, but had to let him go due to the salary cap.
The speedster scored one try against his future employers and created another for Harry Sloan with a superb pass and he will be a great addition for Worcester – whichever division they are playing in next year.