This week we concern ourselves with rugby in Libya, Super Rugby observations, media bloopers and two great losses to the game.
This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with rugby in the provinces, Super Rugby observations, media bloopers and a great loss to the game. Two in fact…
A cracking article popped up in the broadsheets in England this week concerning rugby in one of the world's most desolate corners.
Libya is not exactly where you'd expect groups of muscular men to be chasing round in friendship after a ball in any shape other than round, but in the wake of the Qaddafi regime, which banned the sport for being too violent (errm…. what?), those who dared to dream are taking to the pitches again.
“Rugby is a bridge; it doesn't know politics,” said Tarek Benrewin, 28-year-old administrator of the Libya Rugby Technical Committee, to The Guardian. “We have teams forming across the country.”
Teams yes, referees not. Even the reporter who filed the report was asked if he wouldn't mind whistling a token 80 minutes. There's just nobody with the knowledge, never mind the gumption.
But then what could you expect from a game over which one player was interrogated by the Qaddafi henchmen for daring to ask the government if he and his mates could take on a French/British exiles side? Or where another player was beaten up by Qadaffi”s son's henchmen for daring to 'chew up the pitch' with a friendly?
Soon, the best Tripoli teams play the best from Benghazi in a tournament organised to help heal the growing rift between the east and west of the country. “We make friends with feasts after the games,” said Benrewin. “We call those feasts the third half.”
'Twas ever thus… both the rift-healing and the feasts. Good luck to them.
It didn't exactly flash into action, but it's good to have Super Rugby back again. Two full-blooded derby matches played out to healthy crowds, both the Rebels and the Force exhibiting plenty of their usual pacy prowess while the Brumbies continue to conform to Jake White type: resolute on defence, clinical going forward.
And the Reds… this was a truly awful start for them. The lack of edge in attack, the poor discipline at rucks where they were just too slow both in attack and defence.
Still, at least they can be sure they'll probably pick up a win against the Kings, who stuttered to a pre-season defeat at home to under-strength Currie Cup opposition during the week. Cheeky Watson has been remarkably quiet recently…
Farewell Juan Smith. Behind the destructive force of Schalk Burger, the truffle-hounding skills of Heinrich Brussow and the immense athleticism of Pierre Spies, Smith never got the biggest public profile, never found himself drowning in praise and adulation.
But he was and still will be sorely missed in the Springbok team. His was a phenomenal work-rate in terms of tackles and clean-outs, a foundation stone upon which so much of the Springbok success was built.
His commitment to the Cheetahs, where he spent much of his career working for a team continually battling the odds, was testament to his loyalty and his modest, no-nonsense approach to the game. He is nigh-on irreplaceable.
Perhaps less irreplaceable on the pitch but no less so off it was Bath and England hooker Lee Mears, another to fall foul of injury this week.
'Mearsy' was one of those modern rarities, a one-club man, international and British and Irish Lion. He was another who never got much in the way of lavish praise from the public at large, but of whom all who saw him again and again came to know he was one of those 'first name on the sheet' types who would always deliver. A cracking character, one of those the game is all too short of at the highest level these days.
Finally, we are finding this year's Lions tour one of the harder ones to pick. but one thing we do know now: it will bring colourful press.
“If they do well in the Six Nations, there will be a reasonable contingent of English players. But that brings a certain element of – how do I say it – other pressures that come with selecting a lot of English players,” said coach Warren Gatland to the Evening Standard.
“It becomes a much greater media focus from the English papers; potentially a negative focus from the Australian papers. And English players are targeted by other countries.”
Anybody willing to deny this? Thought not – I mean let's face it, England will have more journalists on the tour than all the other home nations put together, while Australia and England…. don't get me started. Remember Justin Harrison and Austin Healey?
Yet we've had this story all week. A harmless comment, a weighty observation from the coach, followed by uproar in the back pages, defences of England from the English, of Gatland from the Lions management, and finally a press conference called to 'clarify' it all.
All that over one very slightly clumsy sentence, a little home truth, an admission that Gatland is trying to understand individual challenges now before taking the bigger one on. What happens if he takes centre stage after a first test defeat in which he dares to suggest Owen Farrell was below par?
Oh this is going to be fun…
Loose pass compiled by Richard Anderson