Loose Pass

Date published: September 25 2012


This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with planning futures, deciding futures and uncertain futures in the game…

This week we will be concerning ourselves with planning futures, deciding futures and uncertain futures…

New Zealand Rugby Union has laid down an interesting marker this week, confirming that Richie McCaw is taking a season off in order to freshen him up and prolong his playing days, potentially until the next World Cup.

McCaw will be 34 going on 35 by then, an age at which most players have long since fallen off their fittest and best. Not that a slightly slower McCaw wouldn't still be one of the finest players in the world, but New Zealand's pride and joy for many years now has been the way in which the young players are brought through in time to replace those looking a little longer in the tooth.

So does allowing McCaw to do this not represent either a mild shift in philosophy or a lack of faith in those currently snapping at the great man's heels? After all, we both heard and saw so much good in Sam Cane earlier this year for example. Matt Todd is no slouch either.

There's a lot of other ways McCaw will be beneficial of course. The plan – and one of the legacies of Graham Henry's reign is that everything in the All Blacks set-up is planned – could merely be, supposing he does fall foul of advancing years, to retain McCaw in the squad as a leader even while the youngsters do take the field ahead of him. Having around the man who led the All Blacks through some of their darkest times and on to the World Cup would be of massive benefit.

And while there's room for doubt over how age will catch him up, there's no debate as to McCaw's status as the benchmark openside of the professional era. In three years' time, he could well still be New Zealand's best openside. Brad Thorn was the best lock at 36 and there is good evidence Nick Easter is still England's best number eight at 34.

But what we don't want to see is a repeat of the John Smit scenario, where a great player and leader's reputation was muddied by his being significantly past his best and in the starting team despite his positional rival being some way better towards the end of his career. It would not befit McCaw to finish like that at all. Hopefully all those planning to have him around in 2015 have that well in mind.

Quade Cooper's goose must now be cooked. If there's any sense in the Australian Rugby corridors of power – debatable at times – they'll be taking one look at his most recent twitter rantings and feeding his possible contract extension carefully into a shredder.

Then again, it ramps up the pressure on Robbie Deans to an extraordinary extent. It's not just Cooper's continued pressure, it's the lack of discipline – Cooper, Digby Ioane and Kurtley Beale were reportedly involved in a late-night car accident last week – and the hints at behind-the-scenes disunity masked by ever thinner veils.

“There's a lot of people who are afraid to say what they feel so they just go along with it and nothing is going to change,” said the fly-half.

“That's why I feel so strongly as a player. I don't want to be involved in the toxic environment, and that's how it is at the moment.”

Strong words, which may lead to a decisive moment. If there is unity behind the scenes at the ARU, Cooper will not get his ARU contract renewed on the basis of that little vent. No player is bigger than the team and Cooper has long been waging a battle along those lines. He should be sent off – and his last tweet was a supposed desire to return to rugby league anyway.

Should he go, the reaction of his team-mates then becomes the focus. Do others go too? If so, you can be pretty sure the administration or coaching is the problem. If not, perhaps Cooper himself was the problem.

Either way, it's about time someone at the ARU did something a little more decisive, for the longer the inaction over this disappointing season goes on, the more the administration looks at fault.

Finally, there'll no doubt have been a few glasses raised to toast the French across Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Italy this week.

With LNR vice-President Patrick Wolff confirming that England's attempted mutiny against ERC will be a solo effort rather than an anglo-French one, the French have managed to soothe nearly everybody's worries that the Heineken Cup will be no more after the next two editions.

Nearly everybody's? Well, Wolff left us all in little doubt as to the extent of how far into everybody's backs Premier Rugby (PRL) were prepared to stick a knife when he added: “The English put a lot of pressure on us in the past few months to accept the idea of an alternative Franco/Anglo club competition almost like it was a condition before discussing anything else.”

So PRL will not be flavour of the month at the negotiating table; it's fair to say that any suggestion they may bring will be instantly discredited because of this underhand attempt to manipulate power. Media in the other countries have already termed the English approach “difficult to swallow” (Scotland) and a “unilateral act of provocation” (Italy) among other things

Then there's the credible threat of invalidation of this $245m deal with BT over a new competition, one which looks almost certain now not to come into existence and one which might have been contractually invalid to start with.

RFU Chairman Bill Beaumont – who famously engineered England back into the Five Nations in 1999 from a similar situation, while munching a pie and pint with his counterpart in Glasgow – is at least sounding hopeful of being able to introduce an element of diplomacy which may bring England back into good standing.

But PRL stand alone, right now with not a lot of bargaining collateral, nor with any representation at the bargaining table after Peter Wheeler was excluded. They insist they and the English clubs can stand alone with BT, but would the clubs want to do so while all the others played European rugby? Highly doubtful. They've been put into a miserable position by their governing body.

Unless they can rescue something from the these discussions, PRL's is an uncertain future indeed.

Loose Pass compiled by Richard Anderson