European Rugby Champions Cup Betting: Row over Hughes ban will harm both Wasps and Saints
It's a crunch weekend for England's remaining rugby clubs in the European Cup. Ralph Ellis fears the sideshow over a ban for reckless Nathan Hughes won't help Wasps in a tough trip to face the champions...
"The fuss will create a sideshow to disrupt Wasps preparations ahead of Sunday’s meeting with the European champions, and when the market develops before a match shown live on Sky Sports 2 it will be worth checking the price for Toulon to win by more than 12.5 points."
It's one of the standard defences: "He's not that type of player." It's been used in football for years to excuse all sorts of dirty deeds.
And now, guess what? As rugby moves more and more into its professional era, Wasps captain James Haskell has taken a leaf out of the "soccer" book and used the same trite phrase to defend his club's number eight Nathan Hughes.
The burly Fijian was last night banned for three weeks, meaning he'll miss Sunday's massive European Cup quarter-final in Toulon, as punishment for knocking out cold Northampton's George North in an Aviva Premiership game 11 days ago.
If you've not seen the clip of film, it's pretty horrific. Wales' star winger North has just slid over for a try in the corner. Hughes, attempting to get back to stop him, arrives late. He almost certainly doesn't mean to let his shin smash into North's face - he just doesn't make any attempt to avoid him.
The incident reminded me of the Jonny Evans spitting incident with Papiss Cisse. Evans was banned for six games because, while he probably didn't deliberately spit at the Newcastle forward, he didn't bother not to try and miss him either. A "duty of care" was how the FA put it.
The RFU took a similar stance on Hughes. "No intention was found, but there was recklessness," they said. Without adding, as they might have done, that as a result of that recklessness North will also be ruled out of Saints' equally tough quarter-final away to Clermont in which the French side are [1.29] favourites. And that's before you begin to worry about the permanent damage that might have been done to a player who was twice concussed in the Six Nations too but encouraged to play on both times.
Haskell doesn't seem unduly bothered by that. "I know Nathan and I don't think he meant to do it," said the England star.
"I think they have changed the wording to say something about being reckless, but rugby is reckless. If you are worried about that I don't really know what we should be doing." (Presumably Haskell thought it didn't matter if he was only being reckless when he tripped a French player and got a yellow card that cost England the Six Nations, but that's another story.)
The bottom line to it all is that the fuss will create a sideshow to disrupt Wasps preparations ahead of Sunday's meeting with the European champions, and when the market develops before a match shown live on Sky Sports 2 it will be worth checking the price for Toulon to win by more than 12.5 points.
You have to go back to 2007 for the last time an English club were crowned European champions. That was Wasps, and Haskell, who played the last 30 minutes, is the only member of the triumphant squad who is still at the club.
It doesn't augur well for a crunch weekend for the Premiership hoping any of their sides can make it past the quarter-finals. The markets say probably not, a lay as long as [4.1] for Saracens to win away to Racing Metro, and [2.84] for Bath to win away to Ireland's last survivors Leinster.