Tuesday, 3 April 2018

5 Talking Points From Widnes 6 Saints 28

Ton up Tommy

While England's batsmen waft away helplessly in New Zealand there is at least one Englishman besides Jonny Bairstow celebrating a century this Easter. Tommy Makinson's double against Widnes brought up 100 tries for Saints for the 26-year-old since his debut in 2011 and reminded us all that when given the opportunity, Makinson is one of the best finishers in the game.

In many ways Makinson has been a victim of his own versatility. Pre-Ben Barba he stood in for Jonny Lomax at fullback at times and did so expertly, while recently he had been operating at centre as a consequence of Ryan Morgan's absence and coach Justin Holbrook's seeming unwillingness to choose between Regan Grace and Adam Swift on the left wing. But with Swift out Morgan has been restored over the holiday double-header allowing Makinson to revert to the right wing position where he made his name. It remains his best position, illustrated by two trademark athletic finishes and by 141 metres on 19 carries. His kick returning and composure under the high ball have been outstanding. It isn't that Makinson has been doing a bad job in the centres. Far from it. But his move back to the wing has brought better balance to the Saints in both attack and defence. If he gets a run of games there when Swift returns and isn't sacrificed for the team, look for Makinson to add to the three Super League tries he has scored in 2018. Beyond that? Here's to the next 100.

Douglas unlucky to see yellow.

Depleted Widnes were missing 11 of their first team squad and were so bad that they even managed to concede a try with a man advantage. There might be a debate to be had about whether the absence of Luke Douglas for 10 minutes makes Saints any weaker, but the Scotland man can consider himself a little unfortunate to have been sent for a sit down by referee Chris Kendall.

Douglas saw yellow early in the second half for a dangerous 'crusher' tackle on Widnes fullback Danny Craven. Yet in making the challenge along with Morgan Knowles Douglas had almost no control over the pressure applied to Craven's neck. Much of it came about because of the extra weight added to the tackle by the Welshman. There are issues around player safety to consider and there is an argument that players have a duty of care to each other. Yet when there is so little intention, and so little opportunity to avoid placing an opponent in a dangerous position then offenders can consider themselves unfortunate to be punished with anything more than a penalty. The disciplinary body's ruling that no further action is necessary seems to suggest that they have some sympathy with Douglas also.

Kendall not to blame for Barba error

Kendall took a suspiciously long time to decide to use the sin-bin following the Douglas incident, with video evidence provided by the controversy-obsessed broadcaster almost certainly a factor. But the referee was quick to award Barba his 10th try of the season despite the fact that the 625th replay, slowed down to within an inch of its life, seemed to prove that there was a miniscule moment of separation between Barba's hand and the ball as he reached out to ground it.

Multiple replays at full speed offered no evidence of this, and indeed several other freeze-frame angles seemed to show that the fullback had a fingertip on the ball as it hit the ground. Unless we go down the NFL route of reviewing all scoring plays then it is virtually impossible to eradicate these errors. If the pictures have to be slowed down to that extent to pick up the separation is it even desirable to have tries disallowed on that basis? Shouldn't the video referee, if we have to have one at all, be there to clear up the glaring mistakes by officials and not to try to reach the unattainable goal of getting everything 100% right? Maybe that's easy for us to say since we were the beneficiaries on this occasion but Kendall should certainly be absolved of any blame for failing to have a doubt in his mind. in real time, there wasn't any.

Is Smith a genuine option or an Easter stop-gap?

Jonny Lomax was rested for this one as Matty Smith came into the 17 for the first time this season. However, when Smith entered the fray in the second half it was not in the halves in place of either Danny Richardson or Theo Fages but at hooker in place of James Roby.

Smith's stats suggest he did a reasonable job even if some of his distribution from dummy half had eerie echoes of Tommy Lee. Smith ran just once from dummy half for 13 metres but put in 18 tackles, three from marker. Against the lesser sides or in games when Saints have carved out a comfortable lead Smith may be a viable option if we want to give Roby a break.

But is there another agenda? Post-game Holbrook was complimentary about not only Smith's performance but also about his attitude to being left out for so long and his willingness to help his team-mates in any way he can. But Holbrook also acknowledged Smith's frustration at his lack of playing time and that it may be difficult to keep him at the club in those circumstances. Hull KR, Salford and Catalans have all been linked with a loan move for Smith who would almost certainly start for any of those teams.

Optimists will suggest that getting Smith off the wage bill will open up cap space to sign a prop to cover for long term injury victim Alex Walmsley. But in truth all the funds in the world will not magically fashion an available front-rower with anything like the same effectiveness as Walmsley. Saints might be better served holding on to Smith if possible. But that is an 'if'. Smith may not want to stick around if Lomax's return makes his appearance here a one-off, holiday stop-gap.

Fages fails to take his chance

Saints barely got out of second gear here. That's handy given that this one was sandwiched between two massive home games against Wigan and Hull FC. But for Theo Fages his and the team's inability to reach maximum performance levels will be a disappointment.

Fages was offered a first start of the season with Lomax rested. Not only that but the Frenchman got to play at stand-off, a refreshing change from being used as a quasi-13 late in games as we have previously seen him. Conditions were not the best anywhere this weekend for open, flowing rugby but Fages made a couple of pretty basic handling errors and poor decisions. With Barba in the ranks there is a tendancy for our stand-off to be on the periphary a little more now but you might still expect more from a player who should have been desperate to make a big impression. But maybe that's Theo, not wanting to do too much by himself particularly with Holbrook's recent criticism of Jon Wilkin. Whether it was selflessness or sloppiness from Fages it could cost him.

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