Oval Talk

Give Brendan a break

Oval Talk

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Now Oval Talk wasn't at Welford Road earlier this month when Brendan Venter became embroiled in a "heated exchange" with Tigers fans, but the Saracens coach appears to have been handed a bum deal with the 14-week ban that bars him from the touchline for the Premiership final.

The Twickenham showpiece is the biggest game in Saracens' history, a game that could define a fantastic season for the London club and round off what could be a terrific conclusion to Venters's first year in charge.

Venter, a former South Africa centre with a full-on Butch James approach, should be on the touchline directing his troops in one final push for glory, not banished to the stands amongst Joe Public like a naughty schoolboy.

The final will be less of a spectacle if Sarries' appeal falls on deaf ears, and all because of a handful of curmudgeonly Tigers fans who took umbrage at Venters's perfectly reasonable need to get out of his seat during the Welford Road clash.

All rugby clubs have the right to make their home ground a fortress, a difficult place to get a result with the fans serving as the 16th man. Leicester have certainly succeeded in that respect over the years and long may it continue.

But it seems to OT that a number of Tigers fans have taken this a step too far. So maybe Venter did block their view from time to time, but why not enjoy the spectacle of an away coach showing all the fire and passion you expect of your own?

A close up experience of Venter venting his frustrations - and presumably celebrating - would be a bonus in OT's books, not something to get worked up about. Here was a rival coach trying to do his best for the team, not cause offense by blocking the view of a handful of fans.

And what of the accusation of Venter pushing a female spectator? He either did or he didn't, and since the accusation was thrown out during the RFU hearing one has to ask why it was made in the first place?

If the ruling is correct, then Venter is surely due an apology for such an offensive accusation being made against him.

Furthermore, why is it that Venter was unable to get out of his seat without blocking the view of said fans? Surely in this professional age a coach should be positioned so that he can move about without causing a distraction, especially at a spanking new ground like Welford Road.

It would be fair to say that Leicester fans are not the most popular amongst the Premiership clubs, and no doubt the Tigers' exceptional success over the years has a lot to do with that. After all, it's not easy to warm to fans who seem to be celebrating all the time.

But there's a difference between showing support and being boorish, between being partisan and disrespectful, and one suspects the Tigers fans were more than happy to wind up a manager renowned for being feisty and committed.

One also suspects the fact their proud home record was ended by Sarries may have had something to do with their confrontational mood and decision to rat on Venter to Leicester officials. Bless them, eh.

OT is more than aware that Venter has previous with the RFU, but it will be a real shame if he is prevented from taking his rightful position in the Twickenham dugout due to the complaints of a handful of precious Tigers fans.

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Congratulations to Chris Ashton for winning the Premiership player of the season award. Sixteen tries in 20 matches is an excellent return and England will hope he can continue that form on the summer tour to Australia and New Zealand.

But OT can't help but think the award should have gone to Saracens hooker Schalk Brits, who has re-defined the hooker's role in top-flight rugby this season with his all-round game.

Brits has shown outstanding running and handling skills this campaign, as well as a real eye for the try line: the once-capped South African has touched down seven times so far this season, including the winner in the Premiership semi-final last weekend.

And just before you ask: no, OT is not a Saracens fan!

Quote of the week: "The RFU rightly upholds the core values of the sport, which include respect for the opposition at all times. Where was the respect for Brendan? He is given a seat with a restricted view, he stands only so he can see what is happening on the field and he is abused by home supporters. In response, he does not swear at anybody, he does not make an obscene gesture at anybody, he does not lose his temper - and yet is now denied the right to coach his team at the final." (Edward Griffiths, Saracens CEO). Quite!

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