VIDEO: Bristol Bears accused of cheating after 'misunderstanding'
REACTION: Leicester Tigers boss Steve Borthwick poured fuel on the fire that was the controversial end to their Premiership home loss to Bristol Bears by dismissively claiming he doesn’t talk about people he doesn’t have anything good to say about.
The Bears clung on for the 26-23 victory that will give them home advantage for the semifinals in two weeks’ time after Tigers had punished the visitors’ scrum five metres from the try line with repeated penalties that resulted in the yellow-carding of Bristol replacement tighthead Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro.
The sin-binning prompted referee Ian Tempest to check with his fourth official what the status of the substituted John Afoa was.
The New Zealander was only included in the starting Bristol line-up earlier on Saturday after Kyle Sinckler, who was originally selected at No.3, pulled out with a hamstring injury.
The fourth official’s card said that the removal of Afoa for Tetaz Chaparro at the Welford Road break was tactical and not injury, and this led to a touchline bust-up involving Leicester boss Borthwick, Bristol boss Lam and the officials.
With tempers frayed, Afoa eventually agreed to go on for the play that was to restart with another scrum five metres from the Bristol line. The ball squirted out the back of the Leicester set-piece and led to Bears’ replacement scrumhalf Andy Uren kicking it into touch to end the match.
However, tempers boiled over when the celebrating Afoa collided with Richard Wigglesworth, sparking a dust-up involving multiple players.
Ellis Genge was especially incensed and he was seen engaging in a feisty clash with Nathan Hughes before tempers eventually calmed and the teams went their separate ways.
Interviewed on TV in the minutes after this bizarre, volatile ending to the game, Borthwick bluntly said: “When I don’t have much good to say about people, I don’t say it. I’d rather not comment on the behaviour of the opposition.
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We’ve never seen anything quite like this…
Bristol Bears’ replacement tight-head prop was shown a yellow card with no time left.
Jon Afoa had previously come off as a ‘tactical’ sub, but tensions rose over his return as both coaches got involved. pic.twitter.com/O8afakCVK7
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) June 5, 2021
“I’d rather not comment on what happened at the end. I’d rather comment on what happened in the minutes before that… there will be a lot of talk about the last couple of minutes there and the way people conducted themselves and that is not for me to talk about any of that.”
Asked to explain the controversy from his perspective, Bristol boss Lam said: “We all remember John Afoa got injured in the Gloucester game. He was due back next week but he trained with the guys.
“Kyle Sinckler trained on Thursday and just had a twinge on his hammy. We made a call, we checked with the medics. They said it was a risk but if we were playing Johnny we might as well start him and then get him off at half-time and that is what I did.
“You all know I never ever take John Afoa off at 40 minutes. Then when that happened at the end there and he needed to go back on I didn’t realise he was on a tactical, I thought it was on injury and with that they wanted him to back on.
“My concern was we had driven up here because of Covid, he is nearly 40 and he sat there the whole half. Although they were, ‘Let’s go, it’s tactical’, I said we have got to look at the safety of John.
“Then the Leicester boys came in and started going and accusing us and Johnny said, ‘Bugger it, I’m going [on]’. I wasn’t happy but John said I’ll just do it and that is what he did, he went in and did the job. That is basically what happened.”
Asked to clarify who tells the fourth official what goes down on the replacements card, Lam continued: “That comes down from myself or from the medical team. Ultimately it was a misunderstanding. I thought when John came off it was written down as an injury but again he is coming off at half-time, I’m in the middle of talks and all that so I just thought it was straightforward.
“You all know I never take Jon Afoa off after 40 minutes.”
“I didn’t realise it was a tactical sub.”
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) June 5, 2021
“Then it came up that Johnny is going back on, he needs to go on because it is tactical and I go hold on, he has sat there the whole time, he hasn’t warmed up, we didn’t think he was going back on.
“That is what the confusion [was]. Ultimately the rule is he needs to go back on the field. My concern, again, Johnny, his age, sitting down, not even warming up. That’s Johnny, he just got annoyed, particularly when we were getting it from all sides. He said, ‘Bugger, I’ll just get on and get the job done’.”
Lam added he had no issue with the game going to uncontested scrums if Afoa didn’t go back on and he was willing to forfeit another player for the final play. “We heard 13 men and I was yeah, it’s fine, we’ll get someone off and we’ll defend.
“My main consideration was Johnny but the key is if we didn’t have all the Leicester bombarding us we could have made that call but once they started accusing us of some pretty heavy things in our faces, Johnny just got annoyed and said I’ll go and just started walking off… it is a good lesson for all. At the end of the day, I am just pleased we got the job done.”
By Liam Heagney, RugbyPass