Loose Pass

Date published: August 15 2012

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with calls and coaches and the swansong of an old warrior…

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with calls and coaches and the swansong of an old warrior…

Somewhere in the south west of France this week, a referee will do something very significant. Around 1.7 tonnes of muscle will be divided in two, the halves gathered together in a melée of limbs and squared up against each other before clashing with scary force. Controlling all this will be the referee, who will call: 'crouch….touch…SET'.

This is the new call for scrum engagements; intended to solve the problems of collapsing scrums, free-kicks for early engagements, props twitching and losing balance, and, and, and.

It is an improvement. The now-redundant 'pause' call was a cause of far more problems than it solved, simply allowing more time for props to either over-think, over-balance, or plot their next piece of underhand manoeuvering.

Whether the new calls will make a significant difference is less clear. As one prop mentioned to me over the weekend: “you know, in about four weeks' time they'll all have worked out how to do the old tricks under the new calls. Anyone who thinks this is going to create straight scrums which never collapse is deluding themselves. If props can't win a scrum just by pushing they're going to try other things. Referees who've never propped don't really know what those things are, nor what they look like. The new calls will reduce the time spent on engagement, but they won't even scratch the surface of what goes on after.”

Interesting times…

While on the subject of those new laws… the one we are still most interested in is the five-second law at the back of the ruck, more specifically, how referees intend to enforce it.

This paragraph was sent out in a mail to a referee society earlier this week:

“When the ball has been clearly won by a team at a ruck and the ball is available to be played the referee will call “Use it!” after which the ball must be played within five seconds. If the ball is not played within the five seconds the referee will award a scrum and the team not in possession of the ball at the ruck is awarded the put in. Referees should be looking to say “Use it” only when the ball is available at the back of the ruck and the team with the ball has slowed down playing the ball.”

So off we went to a reasonably high-level coach, to see what he thought.

“So attacking is not the problem,” he said. “Perhaps some coaches will have to speed up their structures or shapes and be more wily about putting wings in at half-back on occasion, but playing the ball like this won't be too tough.

“What will be more interesting is how this is defended. For example, I might place someone on defence just behind the ruck and instruct him to pile into the ruck as hard as he can as he hears the 'use it' call, to disrupt the quality of ball the scrum-half has on offer. If it's disrupted well enough and long enough, do we win a scrum there for the ball being delayed? I think we should – after all, the referee has only made the call when he thinks the attack is slowing it down, so the extra delay has come as a result of the attack slowing the ball down and the defence then disrupting.

“But against that argument is one that says that the referee's call is voided by a new contest forming at the ruck… I am yet to get answers about this that do not conflict from referees I have spoken to. It's a good law in principle, but the arguments over interpretation are going to boil for a while I think.”

Interesting times…

Nathan Sharpe's likely return to a Wallaby jersey this week will be a reminder to all young aspirants of something very important in the professional game: honours or titles are not everything.

Sharpe is a 105-cap Wallaby who has amassed an additional 162 Super Rugby caps in a 14-year career.

Yet Sharpe, who has achieved many individual honours, is still yet to win a single one of the game's major trophies. No Super Rugby titles, no Tri-Nations titles – although he was involved in the winning campaign last year briefly – no World Cups, only one Bledisloe Cup…

Seems the cabinet is a little threadbare after such a long career. But are there any among you who could deny that Sharpe is among the greatest ever locks to have played the game?

Certainly none from here. And for all aspiring professionals, Sharpe's example serves as a reminder that while those who focus only on winning titles often end up having fifteen minutes of fame but eventually falling by the wayside, those who simply set themselves the highest standards and give their all, week in and week out, will be the ones who are most proudly remembered.

A final fling for a real legend. The best of luck to him in his final tournament.

Loose Pass compiled by Richard Anderson