Loose Pass

Date published: November 5 2013

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with the weekend's action, the ghosts of England past, old-fashioned Frenchies and a remarkable front row try…

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with the weekend's action, the ghosts of England past, old-fashioned Frenchies and a remarkable front row try…

The takeaways from the weekend's internationals:

1) Australia's problems up front will take years to sort out. Every series the Wallabies go away determined to work on their set pieces. We presume that every interim they do. Every time they return to the international scene they get obliterated or penalised to oblivion. Often both. It used to be an acute problem, but it appears now to be chronic.

2) It's a malaise that is spreading too. Will Genia has no confidence, meaning Quade Cooper gets no time and space, meaning Australia kick away so much possession that they look… well, to be honest, they look a little English. Without the physicality. Australia might have to wait a generation for the next world-class team.

3) England need to do more. There is an old saying that attack wins you games, defence wins you championships. In which case England are well on course for the World Cup. But while that saying rang true for a good long time in the professional era, the clashes between South Africa and New Zealand, with a dollop of Wales thrown in for taste, have since proven that actually, you need both for championships. Beating a poor Australia side by dint of a charge-down and an extremely fortuitous interpretation of obstruction by the referee is not World Cup-winning form. If England could just fashion a couple of clean tries from their own possession they'd be so much more convincing.

4) While on the subject of officiating: since when has “not enough” obstruction ever been a reason for non-obstruction? While Stephen Moore was negotiating Dylan Hartley, Owen Farrell had moved forward two metres, meaning Moore had to make a retreating side-on tackle rather than a head-on one. That is enough obstruction: a material effect on the action. Marshall Kilgore is unlikely to be holidaying in Aussie any day soon.

5) New Zealand are warmed up nicely. Not that it was their best display in Japan, but is there a better finisher in the world than Ben Smith right now? A better commander of a game than Dan Carter? And detractors please note: there were only four AB mainstays in that starting team. Can't really see anybody beating them this November…

Back to England, one other thing is clear: it really is time to move on from 2003. Not only emotionally – it's still clung to as a crumb of comfort when the current lot are kicking too much and being turned over annually by the Welsh – but also administratively.

Pretty much everyone in England rugby is now aware that 2003 was a glaring missed opportunity to build on success. Playing numbers are down 60,000 on 2005, the post-World Cup peak. The national team and club sides are woefully behind in terms of skilled players. Remarkably few of that team have gone on to continue in leading positions in England rugby – but then why would they? After all, the RFU has rarely been found sensibly planning how to utilise its best assets and standing by a consistent structural and financial model. Nor have England's clubs, forever with interests running almost diametrically opposed to the England team, ever been that able to do their bit for the national good.

Those things are better now, while in Stuart Lancaster and one or two others there appear to be a sticking of the 'emotional glue' as Lancaster puts it, bringing back the spirit and identity in England rugby. As Lawrence Dallaglio exclaimed in the Guardian: “…it's terrible that you have to start your reign as England coach by reminding people what it actually means to play for England. That's not something you can ever imagine happening in New Zealand.”

Nor, on evidence, is it something the current lot now needs reminding of – the possible exceptions of Manu Tuilagi and Chris Ashton aside. The RFU is still the world's wealthiest union, with the highest number of playing adults, in the world. The more it can move on from 2003, forget about everything except what went wrong after, the better it will be for English rugby.

There's a story – well a glut of them actually, but this one sticks out more than most – about a referee in France. This particular referee, one Georges Coulom of Limoges, was so scared about the consequences of his giving decisions against home teams that he had a guard dog named Gamine stationed on the sideline to answer his distress call should the home side resort to non-verbal means of referee management.

There is also the story of Lezignan coach Jean Sebedio in the late 1920s, who used to leave a skeleton smoking a cigar in the referee's room for home matches, explaining to the poor official who turned up for duty that 'it was the last referee who ever gave a penalty against us here.'

There's also the story of the referee who officiated Agen's first home defeat in three years in the 1980s, who was hounded out of the ground and chased all the way to the town limits.

Why this bout of story-telling? Well, there is still a tradition of away teams losing in France, and there is still a tradition of home fans doing pretty much anything possible to intimidate the visitors. Just ask Perpignan, whose bus was pelted with stones as they made their way through the outer limits of Oyonnax ahead of their Top 14 clash on Saturday.

Needless to say, the home side won.

We all love a fat boy try don't we? Gethin Jenkins at the last World Cup, a couple of Matt Dunning pie-shop specials, the cult status of Sona Taumalolo and who could forget that try from Richard Bands?

Joining those ranks was veteran England hooker Steve Thompson last Thursday, in a charity match against the Aussie legends as a part of the ongoing celebrations of the 10th anniversary of 2003 – a match England won 17-12.


Loose Pass compiled by Richard Anderson