Loose Pass

Date published: March 25 2015

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This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with Courtney Lawes’ rib-tickler, Steve Walsh’s swift exit, staggering stats and a break with tradition.

The tackle felt around the world

A mind-boggling 27 tries were registered during a thrilling final day of Six Nations action but one single tackle managed to overshadow them all.

England lock Courtney Lawes' hit on France fly-half Jules Plisson in the 25th minute of their clash at Twickenham was brutal and beautiful in equal measure.

A totally legal challenge, as called immediately by referee Nigel Owens, it hammered home what at times is the horrific reality of the modern game.

Power and pace are a potentially lethal combination and when combined with a clear desire to deliver physical and psychological blow it can impact not only the poor recipient but also those watching in the ground and in their armchairs.

Slow motion replays of Lawes' tackle drew gasps from the Twickenham crowd – and the ire of Plisson's team-mates – and triggered the kind of hand-to-mouth reaction normally reserved for those unlucky enough to witness a car accident.

Plisson could easily have suffered a career and even life-threatening injury with his backbone appearing to have as much substance as cooked spaghetti at the moment he is caught unawares by England's tackle-hungry second row.

The TV broadcast of the game drew a peak audience of around 10m in the UK and many of those may become committed rather than casual fans of the sport, hooked by the sheer brutality of Lawes' tackle.

But arguably just as many may have been put off from playing rugby union or even introducing their children to the sport as a result of the clear and evident dangers.

Walsh hangs up hair gel

Referee Steve Walsh tried to slip quietly into retirement this week but it doesn't seem right for him to bow out in such a way.

The controversial whistle-blower has never been too far from the headlines – or the camera – since graduating to the Super Rugby stage in 1997.

Wellington fans are still fuming over his handling of their 2001 Ranfurly Shield defeat to Canterbury and he has not been on former England fitness coach Dave Reddin's Christmas card list since their spat at the 2003 Rugby World Cup that saw Walsh handed a ban.

Walsh was stood down again in 2005 following an altercation with British and Irish Lions wing Shane Horgan but he saved his most costly cock-up for his own employers – turning up drunk to a SANZAR officials meeting in 2009.

The subsequent split with the New Zealand Rugby Union appeared to be a turning point for Walsh who rebuilt his life, after admitting to a problem with alcohol, and his reputation across the Tasman.

He eventually returned to top-flight officiating – with a prominent tattoo reading 'He who controls himself controls the game' – and he hangs up his whistle as the joint third-most capped Test referee with 60 Tests to his name alongside Welshman Nigel Owens and behind Jonathan Kaplan (70) and Alain Rolland (66).

Walsh leaves us to pursue 'business interests' which on the face of it does not appear strange at a point in his life where he needs some concrete post-rugby plans.

But at the time of his decision he was still part of the elite referee panel and was scheduled to take charge of Wales' Six Nations clash with Ireland earlier this month before opting out due to 'business interests'.

He was also scheduled to handle England's date with France on Saturday – how surprising that he would pass up a chance to share in such an occasion?

Equally baffling is his decision to call time so close to the World Cup when he could have become the first referee to officiate at five such tournaments – now that would have been a great parting shot to leave with his critics.

Stuff your stats

Don't get me wrong. I love a good stat. The fact that France had not conceded over 50 points to another northern hemisphere side before coming up against a free-flowing England on Saturday will fill a priceless few moments in between sips the next time I'm in the pub.

But there should be a limit to their use. It may have escaped you that the Six Nations Player of the Championship honour is based on a mind-numbing points-based process that rewards 'statistical performance across different action categories' – stay with me.

To ensure fairness, 'analysts' have weighted the importance of the different actions depending on different positions. Clear? Didn't think so.

Anyway, the 12 top scoring players have made a shortlist and you now have the chance to vote for your favourite and decide the 'Player of the Championship'.

The crowning of the northern hemisphere's finest player should be a big deal given the status of the Six Nations itself and its power to captivate but the mechanism behind this award repeatedly fails to match the Championship when it comes to credibility.

Asking fans to vote may tick a box when it comes to pleasing sponsors but they shouldn't be trusted with such an important decision.

Give me someone – or preferably a few familiar faces – with some real rugby insight and experience rather than someone whose only qualification is their ability to use a mouse.

Bring on the bonus points

The Six Nations Committee may be averse to shifting the Championship as part of a shake-up of the global calendar but that is not to say they are against breaking with tradition.

They have already flirted with a potential move to a pay-per-view broadcaster in the UK and they introduced a new trophy this year to reflect Italy's role in the Championship – albeit 15 years after the Azzurri joined the party.

So perhaps they will consider introducing a bonus points system ahead of next year's Championship and in doing so encourage the thrill-a-minute rugby we were treated to on 'Super Saturday'?

OK, so you might 'win' a Grand Slam but not claim the Championship title – but think of the fun we'd have along the way?

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

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