Loose Pass

Date published: March 31 2015

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This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with a red card row, the first World Cup loss, a standard-setting suit and a bad day at the office.

Hughes only has himself to blame

The sending off of Wasps' Nathan Hughes for a dangerous challenge on Northampton's George North during their Premiership clash at Franklin's Garden on Friday sent social media into meltdown.

Hughes was given his marching orders for foul play with referee Craig Maxwell-Keys ruling that he had kneed his rival in the head as he attempted to kick the ball from North's grasp as the Welsh wing touched down for a try.

It was a huge moment that ultimately decided the contest – but it was the correct call. The otherwise impressive Hughes clearly did not intend to knock North out but his actions were reckless.

Some may say clumsy and that it was an accident, but a nasty-looking collision was avoidable. Officials are urged to look at the outcome and regardless of whether there was any intent or not, North was stretchered off as the result of a challenge from his rival.

Had he bounced back to his feet then Hughes may have escaped with a word of caution but North was out cold and his game and possible season was over.

Hughes risked a dismissal with his decision to go after the ball, just like any player who chooses to lift and tip a player in the tackle, and for carelessly endangering a rival he had to go. Maxwell-Keys, in charge of just his 3rd Premiership game, was the target of much of the venom but while his inexperience was evident at times during heated local derby, following Wasps' recent relocation, he should not doubt his decision to brandish a red card or fear his own performance review.

More concerning was the third concussion suffered by North in a matter of weeks following two similar blows to the head during Wales' Six Nations clash with England.

A World Cup worry?

The quest for World Cup glory was always going to claim one or two unfortunate victims such is the brutal, competitive and sometimes cruel nature of the sport – but few expected the major casualty who saw their tournament hopes dashed this week.

The exit of Debbie Jevans, chief executive of World Cup organisers England Rugby 2015, was a huge shock given her outstanding track record, that includes spearheading the London Olympics in 2012, and the indications that this year's World Cup will an unprecedented success.

She has been an assured presence since taking over from the original chief executive Paul Vaughan in 2012 and with 1.9m tickets sold so far – out of a total of 2.3m – she has clearly done a great job in marketing a tournament that will be complemented by fan zones and a nationwide 'festival of rugby'.

But it appears not everyone was happy – namely Rugby Football Union chief executive Ian Ritchie. Jevans cited personal reasons when announcing her shock departure but reports have since suggested her exit was triggered by resistance and interference she encountered in the corridors and committee rooms of the RFU who formed England Rugby 2015 to deliver the tournament.

Further details have been hard to come by but the installation of RFU finance director Stephen Brown as the new managing director of ER2015 suggests that there were perhaps concerns about costs.

Whatever the real reason, it is a real blow to the World Cup to lose her at this stage of proceedings before a ball has been kicked. It can only be hoped that when the tournament is hailed as a success – as it surely will be – her contribution is not ignored.

Ruthless Ritchie rattles some cages

Ritchie's desire to oversee a successful Rugby World Cup extends far beyond the balance sheet. His post-Six Nations assessment of England's performance during which he declared that 'four years as runner-up is not acceptable' certainly generated a few headlines – and he is right.

As the world's richest union, England are blessed with unrivalled resources and a healthy working relationship with the country's leading clubs gives head coach Stuart Lancaster plenty of access and time to blend a winning formula.

But England are still without a Grand Slam since 2003 and can reflect on just one Six Nations title in that time. Some may question such interference from the 'suits' but as the man ultimately responsible for the state of English rugby, developing the sport in England and securing the funding that will fuel the game at all levels, he is well within his rights to question performance levels.

It is up to Ritchie to drive up standards throughout the entire organisation and it would be infinitely more concerning if he rated England's performance as 'acceptable'.

However, as welcome as his honest assessment was, such comments should come behind closed doors. A public dressing down turns up the heat on Lancaster and his coaching team, who were recently handed six-year contract extensions until 2020, and while Ritchie may harbour other concerns in the future you will not hear him air them to the media ahead of the World Cup in fear of derailing England's assault on the sport's biggest prize.

Refs also falling short?

It may comfort Maxwell-Keys that even the best referees have trying days. While players strive for their very best with the World Cup edging ever nearer, the same goes for the world's leading officials who are also hoping to earn selection.

South African Craig Joubert will not doubt return to the sport's biggest stage, having taken charge of the 2011 World Cup finale, but let's hope he manages to sharpen up his act after a high profile blooper at the weekend.

Joubert had the whistle for the Chiefs' Super Rugby clash with the Cheetahs in Hamilton but clearly forgot to use it as the visitors claimed a controversial try that should not have stood.

The Cheetahs attempted to set up a driving maul from a lineout close to the Chiefs' line but the hosts were quite literally not playing ball.

They did not contest the lineout the Chiefs' Liam Messam quite legitimately went looking for the ball at the back of the failed and awkward-looking maul.

At this point the Cheetahs moved the ball back to the front of the would-be maul to an offside Boom Prinsloo who scampered over the line unopposed. It was not Joubert's finest hour.

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

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