A mid-game brawl proved pivotal as Saracens ran out 15-6 victors against Munster in yesterday’s Champions Cup Pool Four game.
It was a must-win match for Saracens who – after loses to Racing 92 and Munster last week – needed victory to cling on to the coat tails of the Southern Province club in second, and with that, chances of progression in the Champions Cup as a best second place finisher.
The brawl came soon after the start of the second half, after a first 40 minutes in which both sides looked unconvincing, with Saracens dominating possession but unable to break Munster’s defensive line.
The fight seemed to have started with Saracens’ Jamie George reacting to something said by a Munster medic, supposedly commenting on the hooker’s weight.
“As far as I know, one of their medical team said something which wasn’t all that good,” said Saracens Director of Rugby, Mark McCall, and it seems that this may not be the last of it, as the club seem to be considering whether to make a formal complaint.
Whatever was said, what followed was pandemonium.
A 30-man brawl ensued, with players rushing in to get involved, overflowing off the pitch and into the advertisement hoardings in what was described in The Guardian as “one of the more impassioned brawls of modern times.”
This fight is a bit of a double-edged sword.
On the one hand, it makes rugby look foolish and mindlessly combative. Rugby is a sport which prides itself in its civility, and its players’ ability to be aggressive on the pitch whilst composed off it, often comparing itself to football where respect for the opposition and referees is seen to be lacking. It cannot maintain this self-image if it is to allow verbals to be met with a violent response.
On the other, it was this confrontation that galvanised Sarries’ performance. After the brawl, they looked like a new team, playing with more bite and direction. Tries from Sean Maitland and Mako Vunipola confirmed what could be a vital victory for Saracens in this Champions Cup campaign.
Sarries will need all the fight and heart in the world if this season is to be a successful one, but they must not confuse passion for violence. The players have been let down off pitch, they should not let themselves down on it.