Loose Pass

Date published: July 31 2013


This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with decisions, tournaments and players of no fixed abode…

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with decisions, tournaments and players of no fixed abode…

Two semi-finals, a combined victory margin of four points. That's how top-level rugby ought to be. The Super 15 format has its critics (see further down the page) but once you get to the business end it rarely disappoints.

There's a stack of analysis you could do in the aftermath, but most of the post-match banter has centred on specific players and specific on-field decisions rather than moments of game-breaking skill: namely Dan Carter's drop-goal attempts and Dewald Potgieter's non-goaling penalty options.

Carter looked rushed as he snapped his shot, although he insists it was his plan to go for a snap shot rather than orchestrate a pre-planned field position.

“I wanted to have a shot before the defence knew I was having a go,” he said.

“Sometimes you can slow the play down and then it becomes obvious you are going for a drop-goal.”

Meanwhile Potgieter, who turned down three kickable shots in the final quarter when his side led only by a point, insisted he wanted to maintain the territorial pressure as well as going for a try.

“We tried to spend most of the time in their territory and it was working for us right up to the end – when we took the penalty and we were back in our own half,” he said.

“We just could not exit [our half] from there. We'd been struggling the whole match with our exits – so that was basically the reasoning behind that. [It is] not always a popular choice, but you've got to back what you want to do…”

Decision-making is perhaps the most important aspect of an elite player's make-up in the modern game. The player can be as talented as he/she likes, if the decisions are bad too often, they will not make greatness.

Ask yourself even now: would you start a World Cup Final with Quade Cooper or Stephen Larkham (goal-kicking duties aside)? Was it Chris Robshaw's wayward decision-making history that perhaps cost him a Lions tour spot?

But we do feel there's a crucial difference in these two calls. Carter was trying to gain a lead late in a game and was starting to run out of options against a resilient Chiefs defence. It would be craziness to imagine he had not practiced a few such kicks before the game – he just couldn't quite execute.

Potgieter – and by extension Frans Ludeke – on the other hand, made a terrible call, one of those ones you might get away with in mid-season and learn from, but will more often than not get found out on in knockout rugby. One point ahead and have the chance to make it four? You take it. No questions asked. As misplaced decisions go it rivals Lawrence Dallaglio's call not to go for three against Wales at Wembley in 1999 with a Grand Slam there for the ensuring.

Decisions. Always decisions.

Last week we reminded all interested of the ongoing shenanigans regarding the Heineken Cup, and as if by magic it has now become SANZAR's turn to make fans all edgy about what kind of rugby tournament their team is going to be playing in next year or the year after, or whenever the television people next open their wallets.

The debate appears – thus far – less acrimonious. But who would bet against it becoming so, particularly if SARU, or to put it bluntly, the Kings, do not get what they want: six teams rather than five.

What is clear is that Argentina are about to get a seat or two at the top table, while Pacific Island teams are also edging closer to the dining room door – both can only be good developments for the global game.

But it is becoming more and more of a challenge to balance out the aspects of player welfare, season length and global expansion. As SANZAR CEO Greg Peters says: ''The challenge is with a limited number of weeks in the year, how do you create a competition that has integrity in its structure, keeps everyone involved and satisfies the needs of the three main countries?''

The key word there for us is integrity. We have forever heard the unhappiness of coaches who find themselves with harder away schedules than others, with awkward bye weeks, long injury lists full of fatigued players. The Super Rugby schedule has lacked full integrity since time immemorial.

Maybe South Africa do split away. Maybe we do get a Pacific/Tasman competition and Africa/America competition running in tandem, with perhaps a two-legged final winner v winner. But please, please, please keep the competition(s) short, sweet and balanced.

And please, please, please, all interested parties look at the interests of the tournament rather than their own. If the WRU and its regional teams can make peace, surely SANZAR can do this?

What do James O'Connor, Kurtley Beale and Ma'a Nonu have in common? Yep, you got it: huge talent and no team to show it in.

The former two's troubles are reasonably well-documented – Beale is now out for the rest of the year in any case – but Nonu is a really peculiar case. He has had a couple of poor seasons in Super Rugby, but stick him in an All Black jersey and he becomes almost untouchable.

But the Crusaders do not want him, the Blues have the ABs' most likely successor in Francis Saili, Nonu is not happy at the Highlanders (understood to be more or less mutual) and the Chiefs certainly don't need a new centre at the moment. That only leaves the Hurricanes, who Nonu left under a cloud when Mark Hammett took over and cleaned out. Relations are far from thawed, be it Nonu's preferred home or not. Supposedly he was at the centre of a team culture problem at the 'Canes when Hammett took over; events in Auckland and Dunedin since have only further advanced the theory that although hardly a wayward character, he is difficult to manage.

The NZRU is no closer to solving this problem than anyone else, fearing a backlash should they grant Nonu a sabbatical and still rely on him in the build-up to 2015, but seeing no other option. He needs to play, but there is nowhere for him to go. One of the globe's most celebrated number twelves sits in limbo with Test season fast approaching.

Loose Pass compiled by Richard Anderson