Loose Pass

Date published: March 4 2015

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This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with how money makes the rugby world go around, 'Box office Bill' and a lack of respect both on and off the field.

Second rate treatment for second tier
 
The 2011 Rugby World Cup was marred by accusations that French club Racing Metro paid some of their Fijian international players to skip the sport's showpiece event and concentrate on the club's push for Top 14 honours.
 
The club rubbished the accusations but the ability of the deep-pocketed clubs to lean on those players whose unions could not compete financially was clear for all to see. World Rugby officials stressed the need to adhere to Regulation 9 – governing player release – and promised to investigate any wrongdoing but with another World Cup looming it appears the problem may be about to rear its ugly head once more.
 
Reports have emerged that pressure continues to be exerted by clubs determined to fill the void left by those players called up by the leading nations.
 
"This is a problem that affects all Tier Two nations and we can't have situations where players are effectively forced to choose between a club contract and going to the World Cup," stressed the International Rugby Players' Association's Josh Blackie this week.
 
Too right. The Pacific nations have brought so much to the game and the World Cup and anything jeopardising that needs to be addressed.
 
If that means suspending all the major domestic leagues during the World Cup – and not just in the host nation – and World Rugby dipping into the riches generated by the tournament to pay compensation to the clubs to pave the way for that move then so be it – just as FIFA remunerate the leading football clubs for the disruption caused by their premier tournament.
 
Sadly, any such move, or ideally a revamp to the entire season structure, cannot come quickly enough for this year's World Cup so expect some notable absentees and questionable reasons for their no-show.
 
Weepu walks out?
 
One of the most eye-brow raising moves of the week took place off the field.
 
Piri Weepu's move from doomed Premiership strugglers London Welsh to rivals Wasps was as sad as it was surprising.
 
The World Cup winning scrum-half was a major signing for the Exiles last summer but things have not worked out for him or the club and Weepu was set for move to French club Oyonnax in the summer.
 
But the 31-year-old opted to pack his bags early and will squeeze in a few weeks in Wasps' colours before the end of the season.
 
With relegation looming, London Welsh may have seen a good opportunity to save themselves a few quid as Weepu's services will not have come cheap but the mid-season switch still grates and highlights one of the disappointing aspects of professional rugby.
 
We can only hope that the decision was ultimately made by the club as you would hope that Weepu would have had the desire to see out what has been a woeful campaign – their 50-12 defeat to London Irish on Saturday was their 16th straight league defeat – with his team-mates while trying to rescue some respect.
 
Sam in Sonny's shadow
 
While Sam Burgess continues to labour in his quest for international honours, another cross-code recruit has wasted no time in hitting top gear – Sonny Bill Williams.
 
Burgess struggled in his latest outing for Bath against Exeter where he coughed up the ball all too easily while Williams added an outstanding one-handed try to his career highlight reel during the Chiefs' demolition of the Crusaders.
 
Admittedly, this is Williams' second crack at union – and it looks like he's never been away – while Burgess still has a lot to learn but not even the most intense cramming session will get him up-to-speed for the World Cup where SBW is destined to shine like the star he clearly is and Burgess looks set to be a spectator.
 
Don't hit a man when he's down
 
Another season, another promotion-relegation debate.
 
England's leading clubs have pounced on promoted side London Welsh's failure to compete in the Premiership and used it as a key weapon in their annual quest to ring-fence English rugby's top flight.
 
Sixteen straight defeats and a points difference of -583 does not make pretty reading for the Exiles or the league as a whole but, as has been mentioned here before, they have been handicapped since before even the start of the season.
 
Denied the same amount of central funding as their Premiership rivals, the timing of the Championship season means their place among the elite is not confirmed until what seems like mid-summer and so their recruitment plans are hampered badly to say the least.
 
The fear of relegation can inspire thrilling and crowd-pleasing rugby at the wrong end of the table to rival that being played in the battle for the silverware with teams fighting for their lives and players for their livelihoods.
London Welsh may have failed – spectacularly – this season but the likes of Exeter have thrived.
Long-term financial planning may be hindered by uncertainty but drama puts bums on seats.
 
By all means engineer an expansion to the Premiership that will see sides clearly capable of competing – Bristol and Worcester – given an invite to the party but do not bolt the door. Promotion and relegation must remain with a play-off between the Championship winners and the Premiership basement side perhaps the most likely compromise.

Finger the fan
 
Italy's thrilling Six Nations victory over Scotland at Murrayfield on Saturday was blighted by a moment of madness.
 
It was not the yellow card earned by Ben Toolis or his fellow Scottish debutant Hamish Watson who was also sin-binned in the closing stages, nor Peter Horne's failure to find touch with a penalty that sparked Italy's last-gasp, match-winning onslaught.
 
It was the disappointing decision of a fan who chose to raise his middle finger to Italy captain Sergio Parisse as he celebrated his side's hard-fought victory.
 
This is the second high-profile example of unsavoury crowd behaviour in recent months with reports of homophobic abuse aimed at referee Nigel Owens during England's clash with New Zealand in November.
 
On that occasion the Rugby Football Union moved quickly with an investigation and bans followed for two fans.
 
Some may argue that the young man's crime in Edinburgh is not so deplorable but it must be treated with an equally severe reprimand having taken place in front of a TV audience of millions.
 
Rugby quite rightly prides itself on being family friendly and such behaviour is simply not acceptable and Scottish Rugby must act accordingly to preserve the reputation of the sport and the Championship.

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

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