Loose Pass

Date published: March 12 2013


This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with grand finales, swinging fortunes, and another twist in a chunky tale…

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with grand finales, swinging fortunes, and another twist in a chunky tale…

It was pretty much written from the moment George North scooted home for the decisive try in Paris that Wales would wind up looking to be the ones to poop England's party.

That must have been the hope of the fixture organisers when they placed Cardiff on the final day, it's definitely been the hope of the Welsh since the Grand Slam dream vanished at home to Ireland, it might have been the hope of the English but for Sunday's poor display against Italy – find me an Englishman who wouldn't love to nail a Grand Slam in the upstarts' back yard.

Wales' comeback from their miserable November has been tremendous. The defence is once again rock-solid. We talked about Shaun Edwards facing a stiff test a month or so ago: he's passed. It's almost five hours since the Welsh tryline was last crossed by anything other than a kick. The Welsh scrum is again a source of possession and gained penalties. The team in general has become extremely good at adapting to the referee.

Important players are returning from injury and losses of form, which has left the captaincy a superbly fluid item, passing seamlessly from one senior player to the next. Ryan Jones, Sam Warburton… Alun-Wyn Jones is the latest name on lips should Ryan Jones not recover from injury. Jamie Roberts and Adam Jones are both fine leaders by example, Ian Evans and Leigh Halfpenny have come of age.

Meanwhile, England are still masters of winning when playing poorly. That they have only one more try than they have victories speaks volumes for what they offer in terms of stifling gameplan and effectiveness of execution. But they are now set for a unique pressure: an away match at a formidable adversary with a Grand Slam on the line.

What we saw against Italy already smacked of feeling the pressure. A team already somewhat limited on gameplan further paralysed by a fear of failure. They pulled together and survived, but would they in Cardiff? Wales will not cough up ball so readily at crucial moments as Italy did.

A new benchmark test passed by England's maturing team, or a confirmation that the Dragon was merely slumbering rather than dying. Wales need to win by eight to defend their title. England could wrestle a Grand Slam from the holders on their own soil, Wales could leave England's excellent campaign ultimately counting for nought if they win by enough. What a finale!

Following on from the swing in Welsh form… it seems this was the weekend the rugby world turned on its head.

Winless thus far, the Stormers downed the Super Rugby champion Chiefs, who had thus far been in scintillating form. The Blues were on a roll, but crumpled at home to the Bulls. Sale, Premiership relegation fodder all season, are in the LV= Cup final. France, destroyers of all in November, can't buy a win. The Cheetahs gave the Highlanders a hiding in their own back yard!

Well, at least you can rely on France. Still nobody has an answer to Toulon's juggernaut, and the disciplinary is still abject. Ten days for Dimitri Yachvili's multiple stamps? Get it together…

One more try. Tipping the scales at 120kg and recovering from a knee operation, Rupeni Caucaunibuca is nevertheless returning to professional rugby.

At the age of 32 he has signed for Northland, whence he was first plucked by the Blues and projected into the limelight, setting still unsurpassed speed test records and scoring try after try. He was described by Brian O'Driscoll as the greatest player BOD had ever seen. Youtube is still alive with clips of a short, squat, poker-faced winger leaving other greats clutching at thin air as he strode on by.

Unfortunately, thin air is also what administrators who have dared try to leash him before unleashing him have been left clutching many times. A ban for smoking cannabis, no-shows, mysterious tropical illnesses, a complete inability to either gain or maintain a functioning passport and a catalogue of injuries, mostly down to a total lack of weight control or core conditioning overworking his muscles, have all combined to leave Caucau having played around 35 percent of the possible games he could have played in the last thirteen years.

Given all that it ought to come as no surprise that a man who once commanded one of the highest wages in France and was given a share in his own clothing label is now also close to bankrupt. Talent and money have been squandered in equal measure.

But he is still a fantastic player. His time at Toulouse, where he arrived as a medical joker, was a huge success. He scored some terrific tries and was a pivotal figure – from the start – in Toulouse's Top 14 Final win two years ago having scored two tries in the semi-final to help them there.

“If we can get him back to even 80 per cent of his ability we will have an outstanding player,” says Northland CEO Jeremy Parkinson.

“But it's up to Rupeni. He needs to get fit and stay fit and then play at the level he knows he can.”

Loose Pass compiled by Richard Anderson