Loose Pass

Date published: April 22 2015

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This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with semi-finals that failed to fire, Saracens' dusty chequebook and Sergio Parisse's battle for respect.

Europe's finest fail to deliver

You know your competition might have a problem when the talking point following an eagerly-anticipated semi-final weekend is not the rugby but the 'great atmosphere' that was generated at both games.

The European Rugby Champions Cup is supposed to showcase the best club rugby the northern hemisphere has to offer but rather than set the world alight, the combined talents of Clermont Auvergne, Saracens, Toulon and Leinster managed to send them to sleep.

Many world class players boasting a wealth of experience for club and country failed to rise to the occasion, perhaps shackled by the pressure of the moment, their coach's demands or maybe a fear of failure, with countless errors and just the odd moment of brilliance – take a bow Brock James and Bryan Habana.

Unable to feed off the energy generated in Saint-Etienne and Marseille, the players opted to minimise risk with Clermont and Saracens combining for a neck-aching 77 kicks from hand – a figure surpassed at the Stade Velodrome where 35,000 fans were treated to 84.

Question marks remain about Saracens' kick-dominated approach and a perceived lack of a cutting edge following their exit at the hands of Clermont but they were not as blunt as Toulon and Leinster who managed just one line break between them and left just 17 defenders grasping at thin air.

Meanwhile on the other side of the world in a crucial Super Rugby clash, the Hurricanes and the Waratahs opted to put boot to ball in play just 29 times and served up 31 clean breaks that left 55 beaten defenders in their wake.

Time will tell whether the latest euro clashes were a good enough advert to sell out Twickenham for an all-French title decider but you sense the marketing men will have their work cut out in the next couple of weeks – especially with no Jonny Wilkinson factor to leverage.

Sarries will not splash the cash

Despite their semi-final shortcomings, Saracens are adamant that they will not splurge in search of the magic that might propel them to Europe's biggest prize.

While it may appear clear to many that the Premiership side are in desperate need of a sprinkling of gold dust that could be offered by high-profile signing, director of rugby Mark McCall has ruled out such a knee-jerk reaction to their semi-final defeat – and slammed those who do adopt such a policy for manipulating market values.

They have some wealthy backers and not doubt can – and will – spend again in the near future but only when the time is right and not on a 'marquee player'.

So you can forget a procession of high-profile recruits just like the days when Michael Lynagh, Tim Horan and Philippe Sella put pen to paper with the club.

“You have to be sure that the person has the right ambition and hunger to come to this club,” insisted McCall, a comment that may hint at a failed marriage proposal or be rugby's equivalent of a lonely hearts advert.

It is a calculated call, no doubt dictated just as much by the club's reluctance to roll the dice financially as it is by their desire to maintain the team ethos they have worked hard to cultivate over the last few years.

It is also a brave decision but McCall is aware that the club's fierce team spirit is more valuable than any player and also a trump card when it comes to luring the right kind of talent to join them.

Respect where respect is due

All does not appear well in Italian rugby – and not just because the Azzurri continue to make up the numbers in the Six Nations although it might have something to do with it.

A solitary Championship win was not enough to stop them slipping to 15th in the World Rugby rankings and perhaps more importantly below Georgia thanks to their unbeaten run in the European Nations Cup.

The fact that Italy are no longer among Europe's top six teams has clearly riled FIR president Alfredo Gavazzi who has reportedly labelled his players as 'pensioners'.

Captain Sergio Parisse did not take too kindly to the outburst – or the suggestion his squad should accept a pay cut and performance-related pay – and sparked a social media campaign demanding respect. If anyone deserves respect it is Parisse, a giant on and off the field who has arguably done more than anyone to further Italian rugby.

A word of advice for Gavazzi, if you are looking to inspire a turnaround in the Azzurri's fortunes then steer clear of lambasting your players in public and threatening to lighten their pay packet.

It is a foolhardy policy that will create divides within your organisation and ultimately only bring more pain and embarrassment for your country.

Shed a tear for Cruden, not for the All Blacks

Aaron Cruden's season-ending knee injury would have been a cruel blow at any time but is especially gut-wrenching with a World Cup just around the corner – especially for a player who saw his last World Cup blighted by injury and having cemented his place in the All Blacks' set-up in the ensuing years.

Thankfully he has time and talent on his side with maybe a couple more World Cup within his reach – and the All Blacks don't need your sympathy either.

They have a certain Dan Carter at their disposal while the fly-half factory has also furnished them with the enviable talents of Beauden Barrett and Colin Slade.

But it did take four No.10s to get them over the line in 2011 – anyone got Beaver's number?

Loose Pass is compiled by former scrum.com editor Graham Jenkins

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