Loose Pass

Date published: September 4 2012

This week we will be concerning ourselves with rumours, assertions, insinuations and accusations, observations and praise…

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with rumours, assertions, insinuations and accusations, observations and praise…

Bizarre goings-on in the South African media this week, with widespread reports of Lions captain and dynamo back row Josh Strauss opting to join none other than the Crusaders for next year's Super Rugby tournament (that's the one the Lions have been unfairly shovelled out of by the way).

The rumour, sparked as many credible and well-checked media stories these days are: via Twitter, proved untrue, but did have the side effect of letting us all know that wherever Strauss is next year, it's unlikely to be at Ellis Park after he confirmed that his agent is looking around at overseas opportunities.

The Strauss move was also rumoured to be a loan for a year (presumably up to the point when the Lions play the Kings and give them what for), while Elton Jantjes is also set to be loaned out to another franchise as he has a clause in his contract saying that if the Lions lose Super Rugby, Jantjes can move on.

Indeed, the Lions might have to resort to that kind of creative thinking and loan out a whole host of players. Having already lost the services of four key forward personnel and looking certain to lose Strauss, all on the back of a home defeat to the Griquas, the ship is looking decidedly unsteady in the choppy waters of SA Rugby.

Would year-long loan deals, with the players coming together for a couple of weeks before the play-off against the Kings, not be a good solution for the Lions?

Hopefully they can create something though. It would be a desperate shame to lose them from the face of SA Rugby for the longer term.

Remember the English and French clubs' reasoning for not being happy with the Heineken Cup because the Celtic teams could qualify with relative ease from the Pro12 while they had to fight tooth and nail through the arduous Premiership and Top 14?

Remember what they said about the Celtic teams being able to rest players on a regular basis, thus leaving the teams not only fresher for the Heineken Cup but also looking fresher for the Six Nations?

Well, take a look at the Pro12 this weekend. Leinster, shorn of several internationals on mandatory rest periods, were annihilated by the Scarlets. The Ospreys crumbled in Treviso, also lacking several key players.

Yet under the current qualification rules being suggested by ERC, it is infeasible to think either of these teams will not be right up there, both when it comes to challenging for the Pro12 title and especially in qualification for the Heineken Cup. A couple of domestic defeats actually don't matter.

Meanwhile, the French have been bashing lumps out of each other with full strength teams for three weeks now, while the Premiership kicked off (in style, we might add) with a reasonably full complement of internationals on show.

You see, defeats in these two leagues could see you in quite a lot of trouble when attempting to qualify for the Heineken Cup, especially with the number of teams set to be cut to 20. Finishing in the top four or five in either league is no mean feat and requires a lot more effort than finishing in the top eight of the Pro12 does.

The English and French have a point – this time ERC need to listen and think.

In France, it seems the pressure of reaching the heady goals being set is beginning to fizz in boardrooms around the country, with a couple of Presidents opening fire on the referees of games their teams lost with typical panache.

Agen's president Alain Tignaud asked that Agen be 'refereed like everyone else', adding he wanted his team to be relegated because they were 'not good enough, rather than because of injustice' (so you're confident of staying up Mr. Tignaud?)

A little more high-charged than that was Racing Metro President Jacky Lorenzetti's furious insinuation that Toulon's head coach Bernard Laporte entered the dressing room of referee Monsieur Raynal during the half-time of Toulon's 23-21 win over Racing (a match which Toulon claimed with a late penalty). Laporte claimed to be entering to ask about an alleged stamp by Dimitri Szarzewski on Chris Masoe.

Anyway, conspicuous by his absence is Toulon's own inimitable mouthpiece Mourad Boujellal. Strange… so where are Toulon these days? Ahh – of course. Sitting pretty at the top with three wins out of three. Referees are only bad when you lose. They're the easiest to blame for defeats; ironically, they're the ones you can control the least.

There's a lot of sour grapes in France at the moment, there are also still a lot of matches being decided on penalties and much indiscipline, fighting and cards.

There's no real solution other than to look at the referees and see if they really are that awful; it's worth bearing in mind, France is perhaps the toughest place in the world to referee so slack is the discipline at times. But it would be nice to see a measure of censure applied to the loudmouths on occasion.

That Australian rugby is in a bit of a rut at the moment is obvious, but how deep is becoming more and more evident.

It seems that the Rugby News publication, a weekly paper devoted to all goings-on in sub-franchise rugby is to be no more after this season, and it seems that club rugby is no longer worthy of domestic TV coverage after this year either.

This would be less newsworthy in other countries – akin to the loss of a couple of digits more than a limb – but Australia has no provincial rugby to back up the Super franchises as in South Africa or New Zealand. The downgrading of club rugby that these cuts afford is a hammer blow to the game, a real marginalisation in a country where rugby ranks a distant fourth behind rugby league, AFL and cricket.

We can only hope that something is done to help regenerate this. Without a thriving club game – including good coverage and information flow – underpinning the franchises, Australian rugby will be operating on decidedly shaky foundations and the rut they are currently in will become a lot deeper.

Finally, on a more cheery note, do not delay. Get to an internet connection, trawl the depths of the ether, and try to pick up a full-length replay of this weekend's Taranaki-Tasman Ranfurly Shield challenge/ITM Cup match.

Pace, skill, endeavour, physicality, discipline, honesty, 89 points and a stadium full of raucous fans were on offer, with barely a trace of referee sledging, fighting, indulgent squad rotation or unwelcome politics to be seen. All this between two of the country's less-decorated provinces as well.

It's taken some time to get right, but New Zealand, pioneers of a better game on the pitch for a while now, seem to be getting the administration of the game right in challenging times as well. It's creating a national rugby atmosphere where people seem happy to play and officiate, rather than scared to lose or