This week we concern ourselves with an officiating suggestion, complete performances, complete players, hooligans and the future…
This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with an officiating suggestion, complete performances, complete players, hooligans and the future…
Wales annihilated England. But although it would take only the most cycloptic of pathological whingers to blame it all on the referee, there's a legitimate gripe from some England fans doing the rounds over Sunday lunches about the scrum officiating of Steve Walsh.
Mention this also at the outset: Walsh was on top form on Saturday. He was consistent, he didn't miss much and like the Welsh back row, he rarely looked anything other than calm and in control. But the scrums were a big problem. In all honesty – and Scotland said similar after their clash with Wales last week – it seemed to come down to conning the referee rather than actually engaging hard and straight. A wise old Wales fan on Sunday also opined: “I think they read the ref better at the scrums.”
Part of that is down to experience for the England front row, but it doesn't remove the notion that scrums are still a lottery, still an area now dominated by technical knowledge and tricks by the props, educated guesswork by the referee, rarely a way of restarting the game like they should be.
One bright spark during the game yesterday chirped up: “ok, so props don't ever join the referee ranks because it's a lot of running, but would it be so harmful to perhaps get a prop on the pitch to officiate at scrum-time only? He could then leave the field until the next scrum. He wouldn't have to run anywhere, he'd get free pies on the touchline, and we'd have a scrum official who'd really know what was going on.”
Brilliant idea… over to you readers to find the flaws or expand on it. But we at Loose Pass are yet to find anything intrinsically wrong with the concept.
It wasn't just Wales who were magnificent on Saturday. Those fortunate enough to witness the Crusaders clicking into gear against the Bulls would have been witness to an equally exceptional dismantling.
Had it not been for several early handling errors, the Crusaders could easily have racked up 50. And while Wales' display was one of steely control, physical dominance and clinical exploitation of opportunities, the Crusaders gave it all a flourish of creativity. Effortless changes of play direction, smooth handling, gliding inners and outers running lines, a superb show by 22 skilled players all singing from the same songsheet.
There's been some damned fine rugby on display this weekend. Don't you love this time of year?
Returning to England, there is some soul-searching to do. Fitness must be a concern; the gulf in fitness between England and Wales was clear in the final ten minutes.
But England's old bugbear: creativity, is a bigger problem. It's not just that they don't create many chances, it the desperate lack of prowess at taking them when they appear. The obsession with kicking has to go; they've butchered more overlaps with kicks than they have scored tries in this tournament.
Individuals need to examine their games. Owen Farrell must recognise that a fly-half who sits as deep and static as he does is not going to be able to take charge of a game if his pack is not winning the upper hand. Manu Tuilagi must realise how much he wastes by being selfish. The back row should generally look at Wales' second try and consider how much more they could offer were they to have the presence of mind and skill set of Justin Tipuric at decisive moments.
There's a lot more time to go for this England team, a lot more experience needs to be built, a lot more potential to be realised. What would be a catastrophic error would be to look at this defeat and say: 'we had the game plan but not the execution'. If England can find it within themselves to say: 'we are not creating or taking the opportunities we should be, what skills can we improve on there', it will be a key moment in the team's evolution.
Never mind the dire fare served up on the pitch, there is only one word for what was seen at the Kings-Sharks game in the stands last week: disgraceful.
Leave aside the clear evidence it was a black v white issue, leave aside the complete lack of anybody official even looking like they might intervene in what threatened, briefly, to escalate into something dreadful for three minutes.
The Kings home games have been tarnished consistently with stories of fall-over-vomiting drinking, fighting, complete disregard for no-smoking laws, foul language and just generally a bad atmosphere. For a franchise supposed to be a suppressed rugby heartland, that's a lot of soccer stuff in the stands right there.
The administration has said it will do something, without ever saying what or indeed – and perhaps most regrettably – without even vaguely vowing to try and trace down anybody in the video, for example.
Oh…. no, wait a minute, they have done something. An anti-booing campaign. Woo.
Finally, a quick look below the Six Nations. Georgia clinched the 'Six Nations B' title, grinding out a 9-9 draw against Romania on Saturday in Bucharest.
So what of it? It's a big deal for Georgia, who are now virtually guaranteed a place at the next World Cup… but not a great deal else.
In that division are now some fine teams. Spain and Portugal have some way to go yet, but Russia, Georgia, and Romania are all as good as Italy were in 2000 when the Italians joined the Six Nations. Look where they are now.
Promotion and relegation is a non-starter between the two, but it might now be time to see if there couldn't perhaps be a promotion-relegation play-off between the Six Nations bottom side and the winners of the ENC1A division (which is played over two years).
Yes, there's no room in the current calendar. But it's about time that Europe became as pro-active as the IRB and SANZAR has been about giving rewards to the Pacific Islands, America and Argentina. Even just the chance for Georgia to move up a league would, you think, be enough to make the Georgians happy.
Loose Pass compiled by Richard Anderson