Loose Pass

Date published: February 25 2015

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This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with moments of madness, Russell Crowe's coaching tips and virtual rugby.

Craving consistency

The red mist appeared to descend on Super Rugby at the weekend but it was not always followed by a red card. The Laws of the game are clear on what constitutes dangerous play and they include specific reference to 'punching or striking'.

A player 'must not strike an opponent with the fist or arm, including the elbow, shoulder, head or knee(s)'. Any player guilty of any kind of 'foul play', anything within the playing enclosure that is against the letter and spirit of the Laws of the Game, must be 'admonished, or cautioned and temporarily suspended for a period of ten minutes’ playing time, or sent-off.'

Clear? Clearly not.

The Blues' Hayden Triggs got his marching orders having landed a couple of punches to the head of Stormers rival Duane Vermeulen during their clash at Newlands. In contrast, Crusaders prop Owen Franks escaped on-field punishment for a swinging forearm that slammed into the head of Highlanders rival Josh Hohneck.

The fact that Franks was not carded despite lashing out right in front of referee Ben O'Keefe is almost amazing as those players who think they can get away with such thuggish behaviour with the amount of cameras and eyes on such games.

Unsurprisingly Franks was cited after the game and subsequently banned for two weeks but crucially he remained on the field in Dunedin where the Crusaders went on to claim a narrow victory.

The absence of specific sanctions for each crime within the Laws, for example a red card for a punch, gives the referee the chance to use his discretion when deciding the severity of the crime but also allows for headline-grabbing inconsistency.

Super Rugby is not alone with the Aviva Premiership also blighted by this problem earlier this season with Leicester Tigers boss Richard Cockerill among those perplexed by the grey areas around this issue.

A sport that is intent on prioritising player welfare needs to adopt a zero tolerance on such thuggish behaviour and must be monitored as closely as any possible concussion.

We all love the physicality of the game but there must be limits. A punch must be punished with a red card and even those that miss but fizz with intent must be dealt with in the same way – the fact that the intended recipient escapes a nasty blow should not excuse the actions of the aggressor.

Rusty's rugby manual

England head coach Stuart Lancaster is famously open to advice from others having studied the coaching techniques of the likes of legendary San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh and cycling guru Dave Brailsford, but he is unlikely to add Hollywood actor Russell Crowe to his bedside reading.

The Oscar winner may hail from New Zealand and have more than a passing interest in rugby as a co-owner of rugby league side South Sydney Rabbitohs, but his recent call for his former player Sam Burgess to be fast-tracked into the England squad following his code switch may prove as convincing as Crowe's accent in the turkey that was Robin Hood.

"If I was anything to do with English rugby union, I'd just select him in my squad because he's a very fast learner,” he urged.

"You want your top 30 athletes representing the country and he has to be among the top 30 athletes in rugby union right now."

Burgess is without doubt a talented individual and an impressive athlete but he made his name in rugby league. Good reviews will only get you so far. He needs to consistently deliver the goods on the domestic stage with Bath if he is to feature in England's Rugby World Cup plans – now that is something that the star of LA Confidential, The Insider, Gladiator, A Beautiful Mind, Cinderella Man, American Gangster and Man of Steel could help with.

A glimpse into the future?

We're used to Super Rugby offering an insight into the future, normally in the form of the rising stars of the game, and this past weekend was no different although on this occasion it was more about what we couldn't see.

Wet conditions at the Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane meant that the tournament and sponsor logos could not be painted onto the pitch and instead they were added by TV broadcasters Fox Sports via a 'virtual' field.

Fans at the ground would not have seen anything on the pitch – not that they can normally decipher adverts that are normally painted at a specific angle for TV – while viewers at home would have been treated to a corporate-themed feast for the eyes.

We can expect more of the same in the future with advertising space tailored to respective TV markets appearing to offer SANZAR a possibly lucrative new revenue stream.

Perhaps the same TV wizards could have painted a few fans into the worrying amount of empty seats at Suncorp?

Pads for protection?

Player welfare remains a hot topic in the sport with the debate often driven by events in the elite game but it is important to remember many more play at an amateur level and it is imperative that the authorities ensure the grassroots game receives even more care and attention.

The Six Nations can fuel dreams of glory but could it also trigger nightmares with youngsters risking injury as they try to conjure the same ferocity that is a key aspect of the modern game?

This 'indestructible' mindset is not helped by the use of skull caps and shoulder pads and former England star Mike Tindall is the latest to question their use in the junior game.

“When kids train nowadays they have skull caps, shoulder pads, gloves. My advice is to get rid of all that and teach proper tackling technique,” he said.

“Kids want full contact, but if you rush into it without the right technique you get injured.” Experts claim that there is no evidence to suggest that pads and skull caps help prevent injury. In fact, such 'protective' equipment may well be doing just the opposite by encouraging youngsters to believe they are safer and immune to injury which is far from the truth.

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

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