Allan Massie: Is the classic hand-off with an open palm soon to be judged unlawful?

Matt Fagerson, centre,  is shown a red card in last week's match against La Rochelle. Picture: SNS/SRU
Matt Fagerson, centre, is shown a red card in last week's match against La Rochelle. Picture: SNS/SRU
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One couldn’t argue against the penalty conceded by Matt Fagerson and the red card he was given. The referee was acting in accordance with the instructions given: punishment is now mandatory when there is contact of shoulder, arm or hand with an opponent’s head, face or neck. Yet there was something unsatisfactory about it, and this would have been the case even if the penalty hadn’t denied Glasgow the try which would have put them level with La Rochelle at 12-12 with a conversion to come.

The fact is that Fagerson’s victim was upright, in no position to make a low tackle but committed to going high, no doubt with the intention of smothering the ball or ripping it from Fagerson, also risking making contact himself with Fagerson’s head. One wonders incidentally if the classic hand-off with open palm is now often to be judged unlawful.

That said, Glasgow lost a match they had every opportunity to win. Conditions were vile, but, after they had taken an early 7-0 lead, they played wretchedly for the rest of the first half, so that playing against the gale La Rochelle scored two tries and went into the interval 12-7 ahead. Then in the second half Glasgow had several chances to score, but failed to take them. Sometimes their judgement was poor, a notable example being that over-ambitious and, in the conditions, wild pass which George Horne slung out to Niko Matawalu.

Glasgow are stuttering, but they still have an outside chance of reaching the quarter-final – an outside one because to do so they must beat Exeter at home and Sale away, probably needing at least one bonus point. What is in their favour is that three of the pools are in the same position, with second place open.

Edinburgh are in a much happier position, their qualification for the Challenge Cup quarter-final being all but assured. They have been winning without being at their best. Most years home and away wins against Wasps would be regarded as a notable achievement, but Wasps’ form has been dismal this season, their record in the English Premiership being played 5, won 1, lost 4.

In general the English clubs are having a poor Champions Cup, the seven of them having only 11 wins between them. Exeter have four of these, two of them against Sale. Northampton Saints, who are sitting at the top of the Premiership, have won twice, but conceded 50 points to Leinster on successive weekends. Exeter may be the only English club in the quarter-finals, though both Northampton and Saracens have a chance of getting there.

Now we have the two home-and-away weekends of the Inter-City, matches which, to some extent, replicate the old International Trials that offered midwinter entertainment in the amateur days. The result matters of course as it didn’t always then, but they are still occasions for individuals to catch the selectorial eye.

One particular point of interest will be the performance of the two 13s. Huw Jones, pictured, and Mark Bennett are both players who once looked like taking secure possession of that jersey in the Scotland team. Both then rather lost their way, Bennett on account of a succession of injuries which kept him off the field for long periods, Jones because of a combination of injury and loss of form. Jones just missed out on selection for the World Cup. Bennett had played so little that he wasn’t even in the preliminary training squad. Both now seem to be fit. Either, if back to his best, would give the Scotland midfield an attacking edge it lacked in Japan.

Elsewhere we have the four locks who were in the World Cup squad: the ever-reliable Jonny Gray and the fast-developing Scott Cumming, for Glasgow; Grant Gilchrist, a regular for Scotland, and the athletic occasional interationalist Ben Toolis for Edinburgh. The competition ought to be fierce.