Rugby took a journey into the surreal on Saturday when Dean Richards criticised Dean Richards, Newcastle Falcons’ director and his refereeing namesake coming into conflict.
The appointment of Richards as official for the Franklin’s Gardens encounter had raised a pre-match titter on the terraces, but few in the Newcastle camp were seeing the funny side as the visitors were penalised off the park in a first-half during which they defended heroically.
“The damage for us was done in the first half in terms of the understanding of what went on at the breakdown and the scrum,” said the Falcons boss.
“We got absolutely nothing on the day from the referees or the assistant referees, and when you look at it on the video you just can’t understand where they are coming from with the calls they made.
“All you want is a bit of parity, and we didn’t get that from the decision-making by the referee.
“The scrum was just a lottery, and when you have people riding up on the outside, the loose-head coming in on the angle every time, you just can’t understand how they get to the conclusion they do. There is no consistency. We transgress once and we get penalised. Some teams get away with it and some teams don’t. It’s just very frustrating.” The director of rugby was keen for his comments not to overshadow a performance in which his side more than played their part, frustrating the second-placed Saints through sheer grit and defensive organisation in a first half which produced just a pair of Stephen Myler penalties despite hogging most of the possession.
Northampton turned down four kickable penalties in search of the try-line and left empty-handed on each occasion, their first try not coming until the hour mark when centre James Wilson countered down the right wing.
Midfield partner Luther Burrell grabbed their second with a poacher’s try from sloppy clearance work on the Falcons’ line, Newcastle finding gaps through Mike Blair and Phil Godman but not producing the finishing touch.
“The players were absolutely outstanding,” said Richards.
“Defensively we didn’t shy away from any of the hard work, but it was just clouded by the inconsistencies in other areas.
“Richard Mayhew was outstanding, as was Mike Blair, Phil Godman and a load of others I could mention.
“There was not a weakness in that respect, it was the officiating that frustrated us. If you look at the first three penalties, you’d say two of them weren’t penalties. There just seems to be very little understanding of what is going on. It is very frustrating.
“If we are being penalised for competing for the ball, then they need to be penalised as well when they do the same. You have to have consistency in decision-making, and that is all anybody is asking for.”
His Northampton counterpart Jim Mallinder was predictably less sympathetic, but did credit the visitors for their stubbornness. The former England full-back said: “We knew it was going to be hard work because Newcastle play that way. They have got a big, heavy pack, and they defend very well.
“We weren’t quite as fluent in attack as we would like to have been, and you have to credit Newcastle for that.
“They shoved numbers into the breakdown and slowed everything down.”