Loose Pass

Date published: August 21 2012

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with….well, pretty much everything!

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with….well, pretty much everything!

We've made it pretty clear down the months what we think of the SARU decision to insert – used in that word's most invasive sense – the Kings into next year's Super Rugby competition at the expense of the Lions.

In case we haven't, we found no better words to sum up the decision than those uttered by Lions President Kevin de Klerk:

“We were under the impression that the outcome would have suited everybody. This must be seen in the light of what was said to the Sports Portfolio Committee, that the Kings would come in, but not at the expense of any other team.

“However, that statement [by SARU] held no value, as it appears the writing was on the wall.

“We were led up the garden path.

“I was dumbfounded when I arrived there [at the meeting] and realised this thing was a done deal … we needn't have bothered with the meeting.

“For me it is a lack of leadership – it is the worst leadership I ever experienced.”

But it's done. And maybe we should move on now. Except that Cheeky Watson, the poison in this most venomous of stings to SA Rugby's skin, still is not satisfied, now bemoaning the fact they get only one guaranteed season, after which they will, assuming they finish last (and can anyone see different happening?) have to play off against the Lions for the right to remain at the top table at the end of next season. Watson took umbrage at this decision to make the bottom SA team play off against the outsider, saying:

“I think it is a ludicrous decision.

“It doesn't make sense in rugby, not in business, not in the church. (church…what? – ed.)

“It doesn't make sense in any sector of society that you are sitting with a scenario that you are in Super Rugby for one year and expected to achieve.”

So, you're not satisfied with politically manoeuvering a team into a premier competition without having played a single premier competitive game (bar, perhaps, the promotion play-off game they comprehensively lost last season), not content with wrecking the livelihoods of all concerned with the Lions, not at peace with irreversibly changing the face of the country's national rugby landscape by singularly off-pitch chicanery backed up by no shred of on-pitch evidence bar some demograhic statistics.

What precisely do you want Mr. Watson? Perhaps SARU can organise a special envoy to go to Hamilton, pick up the trophy for you and just bring it to your doorstep so you can win something without playing any competitive games at all? Perhaps, SARU can organise it so you start with an extra eleven points per franchise head start so that any bonus-point defeats would be meaningless and you would win the SA conference anyway.

Or perhaps you could just, for once and for all, shut the hell up and get on with the job of producing a team that will earn its rugby spurs on rugby-playing merit. That's all anybody else wants, and has ever wanted, to see.

If Watson really wanted to launch up a meaningful campaign to ensure indigenous players playing in their home country, he might find a healthy challenge in France at the moment.

In a penalty-ridden opening weekend – which had little to do with the new laws – Toulon were the worst offenders, taking to the field with eleven non-Frenchmen in the starting XV, but others were more than half-full of imports.

The French teams are under pressure to ensure that a good portion – more than half – of players are home-grown within the next couple of years as a part of regulations laid down by the LNR and FFR a year or so ago. On the evidence of the opening weekend, some teams are going to get a rude awakening at the end of this season.

There are going to be quite a few people watching the saga of Cameron Shepherd unfold with interest over the next few months.

Understandably furious at having a contract torn up on medical grounds a full month after the medical test and a mere three days before he and his family were due to up sticks and off over the other side of the world, Shepherd is now suing the Northampton Saints on contractual grounds.

If Shepherd does manage to push this through – and most seem sympathetic to his side of events – it will be a blow struck for many a player, even in the lower echelons of the game, who find themselves manipulated and enticed into making decisions with significant personal consequences and then find themselves cast aside like the item you take to a checkout then change your mind about in the queue.

There may be information to which we are not privy of course. So we are not saying Shepherd definitely has a case. But we know, and know of, many players who have found themselves adrift in similar situations, without the resources to call their would-be employers to answer for their actions.

If Shepherd has a case and ends up able to create a legal precedent with his action, it will be a good day for rugby players all over the world.

Finally, it did not go unnoticed this weekend that the Rugby Championship kicked off. As ever, we present our reviews of the teams as succinctly as possible…

Australia – error-ridden and directionless. It could be rust of course, but we think that the team is suffering a real identity crisis at the moment and that the pressure mounting on Robbie Deans is beginning to tell.

New Zealand – effective, if rusty. We're looking for more.

South Africa – nowhere near incisive enough. Still too much mindless kicking, still too much one-dimensional running. They were physical as ever and effective for the large part. But they won't beat the All Blacks like that. Those who would say Argentina got a hammering are delusional, South Africa need a lot more finesse.

Argentina – took a while to adjust, but the second-half bore both the hallmarks of Graham Henry's methodology and a little testament to the team's ability to learn on the hoof. Not out of place, and will only get better, especially if they can keep the ball alive a little more.

Loose Pass compiled by Richard Anderson