Loose Pass

Date published: April 8 2015

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This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with a ref with perhaps too much to say, a match made in heaven, a chance to own a Premiership club and a persistent red mist in Durban.

A head scratcher

Referee Nigel Owens is never short of a word or two and this week generated a few headlines by suggesting that the wearing of head guards – and correct tackling technique – would limit serious injuries.

"You could make it compulsory that every player has to wear a head guard,” he said in an interview with the BBC that is sure to have had his World Rugby employers on the phone.

The sport's governing body are unlikely to welcome a leading official questioning their approach to player welfare especially when their claims – on the hottest of topics – are arguably misplaced.

The introduction of compulsory headgear could even increase the rate of injuries with experts pointing to the fact that they create 'an illusion of safety'.

Players may put their heads into dangerous positions thinking that they are protected, but a head guard similar to those worn by many players in the elite game today does nothing more than prevent cuts.

Evidence points to the fact that head guards do not soften the impact of a brutal tackle the like of which is common place in the modern game or minimise the violent movement of the brain within the skull and therefore do not prevent concussions.
American Football players wear helmets and the average NFL game is not a stroll in the park.

Leading NFL coaches have extolled the virtues of correct rugby tackling and Owens' comments on that subject carry much more weight having had a front row seat for the dangers posed by poor technique.

The collisions we witness in the modern game are frightening but a future where players wear head guards is infinitely more horrifying.

A match made in heaven

The Sevens Series-ending event at Twickenham next month is set double as a Star Wars convention following a marketing tie-up with the epic space saga.

The traditional season-ending event is not short of supporters having attracted more than 113,000 through the turnstiles last year but that has not stopped the Rugby Football Union splashing what you imagine is some significant cash to be able to feature the likes of Darth Vader and C3PO in their advertising campaign for the 'galactic' themed showpiece.

English rugby's HQ is now set to be awash with stormtroopers and Princess Leia bikinis on May 16/17 as the race for automatic qualification for the Olympics in 2016 reaches a climax. 

Those teams that finish in the top four following the action at Twickenham are assured of a ticket to Rio and if hosts England make the grade then Team GB will book their place at the first ever Olympic Sevens competition.

Now we only have to figure out what that Team GB side will look like. Who will be selected to play for them? Who will coach them? 

With all the other leading contenders for the gold medal years into their preparation, Team GB is yet to take its first step towards what they hope will be Olympic glory and as a result cannot realistically hope to challenge for the medals.

Whoever they pick they would have no chance against this line-up: Darth Sidious, Boba Fett, Darth Maul, Darth Vader, Count Dooku, Grand Moff Tarkin and Kylo Ren. Maybe a few miles on the clock but combine that experience with an unhealthy dose of the dark side and they would be unstoppable.

Who wants to buy a Premiership club?

If you can lay your hands on £25m then you could own your very own Premiership club as Gloucester are up for sale – as long you are of 'the right calibre'. 

In testing economic times, and with a side that has struggled to match the Premiership giants on the field, Gloucester have recorded a profit for the last four years for which chairman Ryan Walkinshaw and chief executive Stephen Vaughan deserve huge credit.

An operating profit of £512k for 2013-14 may not rival the £146m figure Premier League giants Manchester United reported a couple of years ago but in Premiership terms that is great business with only a handful of clubs to have troubled the black on a regular basis.

There is plenty going for the club – and not just the hypnotic atmosphere often conjured at Kingsholm on a matchday.

"We make profit on a regular basis, one of a small number of Aviva Premiership clubs to do so, own our own ground, generate income from off-field activities such as conferencing, concerts and other initiatives and are proud to be hosting four Rugby World Cup fixtures later this year," boasted Vaughan, who was forced to go public with the sale following newspaper reports.

With top-flight status secured once again and a European Challenge Cup semi-final to look forward to it would appear a good time to put the 'For Sale' boards up.

But of more interest to potential suitors will be the significant and guaranteed annual investment from Premiership Rugby, the cash injection from new bumper TV rights deals and, perhaps most importantly, the very real likelihood of the removal of the threat of relegation and potential financial oblivion.

Vaughan has given the green light to a potential sale as long as 'the right calibre of new ownership is found that can accelerate the club's objectives' but Premiership Rugby must and surely will take a close interest in the process.

Gloucester and English rugby have been served very well by the Walkinshaw family, firstly by Tom who took charge of the club in 1997 and latterly by his son Ryan since his father's death in 2010, and the pressure is on to find another similarly safe pair of hands.

No one must be allowed to undo the hard work that has been done at Kingsholm since the dawn of professionalism and milk the relative wealth available to the country's leading clubs.

Red mist madness at The Sharks?

'No excuses, just an apology' was Sharks' coach Gary Gold's commendable reaction after the Crusaders put his side to the sword at the weekend.

His words were intended for those Sharks fans that witnessed their worst ever home defeat and a defensive performance with more holes than the Royal Durban Golf Club – the rampant Kiwis outscoring their hosts by an incredible eight tries to one to lay down a significant marker as the season reaches boiling point.

But of more concern than their porous rear guard is their continued indiscipline and an apparent inability to learn their lessons.

Sharks flanker Jean Deysel was sent off for delivering a knee to the head of Crusaders counterpart Matt Todd – a year after getting his marching orders against the same opposition for kicking a rival. It wasn't pretty and he can expect just the latest suspension of his career and one to rival the three-week lay-off he landed last season.

His dismissal also follows the red cards that Bismarck du Plessis and Frans Steyn earned against the Chiefs just a couple of weeks ago. 

Du Plessis is currently serving a four-week ban for his crime – kicking the Chiefs' Michael Leitch in the head.

They remain in the hunt for the title but an increasingly worrying lack of composure in the heat of the battle is in danger of scuppering the Sharks' title chances.

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

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