Loose Pass

Date published: July 24 2012


This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with sympathy, catcalling, thoughts on experiments and pecking orders…

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with sympathy, catcalling, thoughts on experiments, pecking orders and what happens next…

The injury to Bjorn Basson in the Bulls' defeat to the Crusaders on Saturday ranks right up there with Mike Tindall's lacerated liver and Brent Cockbain's detached hamstring in terms of how one might wince – nay, screw up one's face in horror – upon hearing about it.

Basson is now firmly ensconced in Christchurch for the next few days, while the Bulls – who were forced to spend an extra night licking their wounds in Sydney because the Sharks took priority when it came to flights – are up in the air as we speak on the long trip home.

A lonely time for Basson? It could have been, but here we have another of those terrific rugby stories that pop up from time to time and remind us all why we play.

While Bulls doctor Org Strauss remained behind to oversee Basson's treatment, two of the Crusaders' management team have also been taking it in turns each day to visit the stricken winger, even while the team gears up for a semi-final in Hamilton. A couple of the players are said to either be making or have already made the trip as well.

Even at the highest level, it's still a game where you can knock your opponent senseless on the pitch, but be a true gentleman off it.

Well, the players can anyway. Less savoury on the night itself, aside from the serial booing each time a Bulls player was injured or lining up a kick at goal, was an isolated volley of abuse directed at Glenn Jackson, wrongly perceived to have missed a crooked line-out throw.

Jackson, who has won praise from every corner (bar the one in the stand, clearly) for his performances in the middle this season, did superbly well to keep his cool, just standing there but very, very slightly shaking his head.

This is not a problem isolated to the Crusaders of course, that's just where it was seen this week. But it's still a problem.

Most vexingly of all, it's the problem of how the abuse is delivered.

Really? We'd say so. Compare what we heard on Saturday: “See if you can get the next one Jacko, you blind p*****” to another we heard at a senior club game last week (after a forward pass was missed): “Oi ref, we're playing down the field, not across it.”

Banter? Yes please. Insults: no thanks.

Back to the Crusaders themselves though, and it's been a rotten week that ends well in Canterbury.

The city is still a long, long way from getting over the earthquakes of last year, but it's near-impossible for outsiders to understand that, while for Cantabrians, it seems rugby's importance has dwindled to being below living for a while.

6,000 of the 22,000-odd seats were empty on Saturday, with a local newspaper article reflecting a widespread local opinion that other things already arranged were going to take priority over a night at the game.

Moreover, many locals simply saw the expenditure as too much, something not uncommon in a city where many have lost a vast amount to the destruction and are still awaiting insurance companies to deal with the backlog.

For the Crusaders themselves, having to host the Bulls under such short-notice circumstances thus proved to be an aftershock of sorts, as they had, under Super Rugby rules, to foot the bill for the visitors' flights, accommodation and other expenses, an amount set to be somewhere in the region of NZ$ 125,000.

“No, we probably won't make money out of this but we are just delighted to have this game. If you look at last year, when we went through all three finals matches, we approximately broke even,” Crusaders' CEO Hamish Riach noted.

“Yes, money is important but it must be remembered it is fantastic to again be in the finals and to be hosting one in Christchurch for the first time since 2008.”

Something which could add more steam to the campaign to get a new stadium built in Christchurch…

A lot has been written about the move of Will Genia to fly-half on Saturday, a move which most believe cost the Reds a – somewhat undeserved anyway – place in the Super Rugby semi-finals.

But there are two things to it: firstly, we're not convinced even Quade Cooper could have unlocked a vicious, swarming Sharks defence at Suncorp Stadium.

Secondly, the trend for half-backs moving to fly-half and the reasoning behind it is gathering pace. Jean-Baptiste Elissalde and Freddie Michalak managed it at Toulouse with great success, Morgan Parra has followed suit for France, and there are others we know of at lower level who find that it helps to have a better decision-maker move to the position rather than move a centre inside.

More than anything else, it was the move from McKenzie which caused the least disruption to his backline for the rest of the game, whilst also meaning there were kicking options at nine, ten and twelve.

Already in the game at the top level scrum-halves are running before passing more than previously, while the new five-second law (that one meaning a ball has to be passed from a ruck once available within five seconds) starting in September is going to put even more onus upon a scrum-half's ability to kick, pass and make decisions under heavy pressure and often on the hoof, not to mention the fact that on the occasions he may be delayed in getting to a ruck, he may have the ball flicked to him as a first receiver anyway.

It's our guess we will see a more versatile half-back emerge in the future…

Also clear is a new emerging pecking order in the Welsh set-up, with Rob Howley taking more and more control while Warren Gatland lines up his Lions for 2013.

So we'll end with a little speculation this week: what happens after the Lions' tour – particularly if Steve Hansen comes undone – or after the next World Cup, when Gatland will have been in charge for eight years.

Gatland is highly thought of by all in New Zealand, and in the wake of 2015 he will have carried Wales almost to the end of a generation of players. Do not be surprised if – be it sooner or later – Gatland's Lions tour is also the beginning of an obvious assault on the AB job.

Loose pass compiled by Richard Anderson