This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with Wayne Barnes, England's naughty boys and the British and Irish Lions.
This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with Wayne Barnes, England's bad boys and the Lions…
Poor Wayne Barnes. Even when technically absolutely right on the money, he still cannot escape centre stage in rugby's biggest debating points. He does so much that is right, referees with humour, humanity and enjoyment. Yet his rare errors just seem to create the biggest stinks.
There were two clips doing the rounds of youtube in the aftermath regarding Dylan Hartley's red card, one as it happened, one more from the half-time analysis. The latter has since been removed – doubtless at the behest of the rightsholders. A shame, for it was quite illuminating. Here's the one as it happened.
What's to say? We must confess, upon live listening, two thoughts were immediate: 1) Did Barnes really just say you can kick it out on the full and 2) Isn't that wrong? Wasn't that law clarified after Freddie Michalak dropped out directly into touch against Wales three years ago?
So when Stephen Myler did kick it out and Barnes called it back for the scrum, there were two other thoughts: 1) Ahhh, he did say 'can't' and 2) Crikey, Myler's furious… did he hear 'can' initially like we did?
See, Barnes has this middling west country accent which makes the words 'can' and 'can't' almost indistinguishable from each other. Certainly with 80,000 people making preparations to bolt for the half-time beers going on around, it could have been bloody hard for Myler. Particularly given the nature of the questions Myler was asking (basically: 'how do I make sure the half ends?'), the match situation and the emphasis Barnes put on the modal verb, it would have been better had Barnes used the unambiguous 'can not', which would have left Myler in no doubt as to what he was to do.
But, here's a different perspective: isn't it about time players learned the rules? It is common knowledge that a drop-kick restart can not be put out on the full deliberately to end a half or a match. The IRB was unequivocal about it after Michalak's kick against Wales. However ambiguous Barnes' pronunciation Myler should never have been asking the question, nor should Northampton's players, Hartley included, been frustrated.
So suffer no illusion: Barnes got every moment of this instance correct. But his superiors might have a little word with him over elocution…
Meanwhile, Hartley will now presumably be joining others of Kiwi descent in scribbling Barnes' name off the Christmas card list, but he absolutely only has himself to blame.
That second youtube clip is reasonably damning in terms of Hartley's eyes moving directly to Barnes in the moment of his little outburst, while it's a bit hard to justify his lame excuse that he was calling Tom Youngs a cheat, given just how much the Saints' scrum crumpled in the moment.
There was never going to be leniency either. This is the Dylan Hartley who lost his 2007 World Cup dream to a suspension for gouging, while official abuse and biting have also blotted his copybook down the years.
Not only that, but he was – as the clip above reminds us all – explicitly warned by Barnes not five minutes previously to button it. He didn't. So now he won't tour with the Lions. Quite right too, the Lions should be for those who are model professionals, an ideal Hartley is yet to fully live up to.
Another yet to live up to that ideal is Delon Armitage. Having sullied the Heineken Cup Final with his taunting of Brock James as he scampered away for a try, he is yet to apologise despite admitting his error in judgement.
Now, rather than letting a sleeping dog lie – the dog in this case being Brian 'pit-bull' Moore who took to twitter to let Armitage know that such lack of grace is not really welcome – Armitage, four days after the final, is still baiting Moore on twitter. Which altogether means that the actual rugby element of what was a cracking HEC Final has rather been forgotten.
This is the Armitage who has been disciplined for shoving and verbally abusing doping officers – among other things – in the past. As Moore rather plainly pointed out, despite Armitage's obvious talent, he also will not be joining the Lions this year.
Perhaps he and Hartley will go off for a summer holiday drink and mope together. Regardless, we have a message for them both, delivered in the form we are sure they will understand best, a hash-tag:
And with that all done, it's Lions time! Off they fly to steamy Hong Kong for the opener on Saturday, before the tour starts in earnest against the Force in Perth next Wednesday.
This is perhaps the most confident tour atmosphere there's been for twenty years. The feeling is not only that Australia are in a bit of a spot, but also that the home nations have been able to provide a variety of complimentary strengths and no palpable weakness.
It's still the greatest rugby tour on earth. It's still a reminder that rugby is about friendship and team spirit traversing borders and cultures. It's still the pinnacle of every tourist's career.
Loose Pass compiled by Richard Anderson