It isn’t often you see a referee booed off the field by the winning supporters, but that’s what happened last night at Thomond Park, and while I’m personally not a big fan of booing, I could see why the crowd were so angry. Pascal Gauzere took what should have been an absorbing battle between two equally-matched sides and turned it into a lottery, blowing his whistle every thirty seconds, awarding penalties to both sides for no reason, failing to spot obvious infringements and generally behaving like a scoutmaster refereeing an under-nines egg-and-spoon race.
Shocking. Not as bad as Roman Poite on his best day, but still shocking.
It might be a little simplistic to say this, but last night in Thomond Park, it seemed victory went to the side that converted more of their unfair penalties than the others did.
Without this referee, it would have been a magnificent battle between two determined sides, neither prepared to give an inch, and even despite Gauzere’s officiousness, it still managed to be an absorbing spectacle from start to end as Munster dogged out a victory and Saracens grabbed their late losing bonus point which was no more than they deserved, given their tenacity and determination.
We all know Charlie Hodgson’s history in Thomond Park of being psyched out by the crowd, but maybe it would have been better if Sarries had put him on kicking duty rather than the unfortunate Owen Farrell, who missed four of his seven attempts at goal. As it turned out, Charlie left the field early yet again — has he ever completed a full game in Munster? — and Farrell barely managed to put a gloss on his disastrous kicking by claiming a late three points to secure the bonus.
By contrast, O Gara was impeccable in his place kicking, but not so much in open play or even when line-kicking, as he sliced ball after ball or dropped penalty line-kicks far short of where they should have ended up. But that’s not to fault his commitment: as always, ROG gave it everything, including a nice little kick-ahead that might have ended in a try if his legs were only five years younger.
We went to Thomond Park wrapped up in our winter woollies due to the dire warnings of supercooled air and lungs frozen solid. You’ll catch pneumonia, as the old people used to say.
My winter woollies consisted of an embarrassing heavy jumper I bought a few years ago with snowflakes on it and a very nice inner lining that’s both windproof and waterproof. You can go out in a frozen downpour wearing this winter woolly and you’ll come home as dry as a bone and toasty warm, but you’ll be fifty pounds heavier from all the water it’s soaked in. Obviously, I wasn’t going to wear it in town later. My friends have enough things to sneer about, but luckily young Bullet was driving, so I was able to throw it in the back seat of his motor.
Bullet himself, being a member of the young classes, feels no cold and therefore his winter warming gear consisted of a skintight Munster jersey over a t-shirt. Right. And since he was driving, he couldn’t even take advantage of my warming hip-flask of brandy — an essential item of equipment at all winter matches, and a thing that tends to draw people together as they share the essentials of life.
But as it turned out, there was no chill in the air when we snuggled into our cosy little perch high on the West stand. No chill, no rain, no wind and no obstruction of our view. And truthfully, we can’t complain. We won, even if that losing bonus point might well come back to haunt us.
Look, as you know, I’ve been going to matches with Bullet since the days when he used to sit on my shoulders. These days, he’d find it easier to carry me, which is as things should be. It would have been nice to go out on the town together after the game, but as it happened, he had to travel on somewhere else, so I headed for the metropolis myself, and soon began to think that maybe it wasn’t such a great idea. Maybe it’s a Christmas thing or maybe it’s a rugby thing, I don’t know, but all the pubs were uncomfortably full of loud people. Maybe it’s just old age and advanced grumpiness, but I was in no mood for heaving sweaty crowds, so I headed for Dr John’s Emporium of Coolness where I found a truly Joycean scene. Over and above the eponymous Dr John, I spotted two more Johns at the bar and they had what seemed suspiciously like a bottle of port on the counter between them.
Is that a bottle of vintage port? I demanded.
‘Tis indeed, said John I. I bought it by accident and it cost me twice as much as I thought it would.
How could you buy a bottle of port by accident?
Just believe me, ok? Would you like a little snifter?
I certainly would. Landlord, would you be so kind as to give me a port glass?
And with that, my friend John I poured an effulgence of richly-aromatic soul-warming port wine for me. It was a delight, exploding on the tongue and rejuvenating the innards.
My God, I said. How could you have purchased such a wonderful vintage port by accident?
I just did. Enjoy.
John II leaned forward and made that spider-coming-at-you gesture. It’s … it’s …it’s …
I’m fuckin langers.
Wait! said John I. I have a plan, and with that he disappeared momentarily, but when he came back it was with a sly and crafty grin. What do you think of this? he demanded, brandishing a fine wedge of Stilton.
Now, there are pubs and then there are pubs. It’s no secret that I’m an admirer of the Blind Pig, and Dr Johns, for the very obvious reason that they’re run by civilised people who know how to please their customers, even if we weren’t exactly customers, given the circumstances, but what goes around comes around.
In a blink, the landlord produced a cheeseboard, a suitable knife and a pack of delicious crispy crackers.
And that’s how I ended up with John I and John II, drinking fine port and eating mature Stilton cheese while enjoying smooth sounds in the ultra-cool environs of Dr John’s after a rugby match, instead of enduring heaving sweaty drunks in a lesser establishment.
Where would you get it?
Maybe it would have been better if the unfortunate M. Gauzere had dropped into Dr Johns to enjoy the ambience, and left the refereeing to someone who knew what he was doing. We’d all have enjoyed the experience more.