Northampton Saints 41-34 Gloucester Rugby * Pics by Dave Ikin
The Netflix cameras are currently circling over rugby union in the hope of emulating the success of their Formula One fly on the wall hit Drive to Survive and this Gloucester game might have been ideal subject matter.
It’s not a bad idea at all. Drive to Survive has helped me understand how the human element integrates with the technicalities of motorsport as the engineers of south Northamptonshire pit their skills against each other around the world every year.
That mix of explanation and story telling could really open up rugby which has its own context of arcane laws, conventions and objectives to unpick as well as a surprisingly diverse range of participants despite a reputation as a ‘posh’ sport.
The main problem seems to be finding a name for the series that is both meaningful but also carries the reduplicated rhyming structure of Drive to Survive. For instance: Pass to Surpass? What? Tackle to… no. Ruck to… definitely no. Lucky Rucky? Ok send the cameras away.
Sometimes it can be quite tricky to pin down what rugby is really about. Saints home victory over Gloucester is a great example. Watching the game it felt like it all came down to that period around the hour mark when Alex Moon, Sam Graham and Tommy Freeman all crossed the whitewash within eight minutes of each other.
Northampton Saints full match report
Saints now have a reputation with the punditry as a team that likes to play and run. On a surface level that kind of explains the game: a tight first half arm wrestle with both sides on ten at half-time until the Saints flying circus took off in the second half.
But the best try wasn’t in that little haul. It was Fraser Dingwall on 68 minutes, finishing off a zigzagging cascade of passes that began with Salakaia-Loto snaffling a rebounding ball, sending it to Hutchinson who found Graham who found Braley who found Dingwall who found the whitewash.
That try was pure Saints DNA. Opportunity + skill + belief = points. It might be our try of the season. However in the following 14 minutes before the game ended Gloucester managed to score three more times themselves, resulting in a tally of six tries each. So in that Netflix kinda way, it’s not the full story of this episode.
This wasn’t a BT Sport game so we didn’t have Ben Kay or Austin Healey in the commentary box to tell us who the Player of the Match was but individually James Ramm had a really strong game. His breaks ate up metres and he also provided the wow kick of the contest launching a spectacular 50-22 shot that put Gloucester back on the defensive.
(This is the rule that rewards the attacking team with a lineout if they kick the ball from their own half into the opposition’s 22 metre zone and it bounces once before going into touch. You can just imagine Netflix cutting to a rugby pundit to explain what’s going on.)
|At a glance|
|Northampton Saints||Gloucester Rugby|
|Most Carries||Sam Graham 16||Ruan Ackermann 12|
|Most Metres||James Ramm 107||Santiago Carreras 60|
|Most Tackles||Alex Moon 13|
Angus Scott-Young 13
|Ruan Ackermann 12|
|Stats from Premiership Rugby|
If you are looking for stories in the game there is also one which gives us a salutary lesson about statistics. Former Saintsman Jamal Ford-Robinson came on for Gloucester around the hour mark. He made five metres, executed one tackle and carried the ball three times – two of which were the tries he scored against his old side in the final minutes.
The points difference between the teams came down to the fact that James Grayson nailed more conversions than his opposite number Santiago Carreras and also slotted a penalty.
You can watch your team do a lot of impressive, courageous, inspiring things in rugby without seeing them score but eventually someone has to bank actual points and Grayson, who has not had many chances lately, put in a really composed performance at fly-half.
Grayson is one of those Saints who has the burden/honour of having a famous Saint father who played in the same position, England fly-half Paul Grayson. I can imagine the collective sigh from people who already know that and who also know that comparison is unfair and not really meaningful. But let’s be honest. Netflix would lap that up. Paul and James giving each other a sheepish hello as they take their seats next to each other on a minimalist interview set. I can picture it.
I guess it is up to rugby how much it can bear to share (hmmm…) with the Netflix documentary makers but that naming problem is not going to go away. The sport is in a perilous position in the islands that invented it. The Welsh RFU is in all sorts of bother and the collapse of Worcester and Wasps proves that there are no names too big to fail.
The game really does need something that reveals its fascinating stories to new audiences so the game can grow and the balance sheets can start to make sense. Otherwise the name of the show will be Try to Survive.
Pictures by Dave Ikin