Loose Pass

Date published: February 12 2015

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This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with a Six Nations headache, Super Rugby's return, a questionable dress sense and a drug problem.

Time to bang some heads together.

Enough is enough. It's time for World Rugby to get tough on concussion. The sport's governing body have worked hard to educate players, coaches, referees and supporters on the subject but with the high-profile and extremely worrying incident involving Wales' George North marring a thrilling Six Nations opener in Cardiff a firmer approach is clearly required.

A nasty clash off heads with team-mate Richard Hibbard during the second half of their defeat to England clearly knocked North out and he crumpled to the turf before regaining consciousness a few moments later. Welsh officials claimed not to have seen how the wing was injured with their medics dealing with another injury but millions of TV viewers and thousands of fans in the stadium could have helped with the details. As a result, North was allowed to play on and Wales insist he did not show any signs of being concussed following the game – but that is no excuse for his treatment, or should that be non-treatment?

The most alarming element of this horror story is that North had already suffered a head injury in the first half following a boot to the head for which he had to leave the field and undergo a concussion test. The fact he was not being closely monitored after that clash is as astounding as it is embarrassing for Wales and no wonder World Rugby have demanded a full review of events.

The sport – myself included – celebrates the warrior-like attributes of the modern player and sadly admitting to injury is still often seen as a weakness. This attitude simply has to change and players need to ensure their own welfare no matter if it jeopardises their place in the team or their potential income.

The damage that is done when the elite game is fails to 'recognise and remove' is huge, especially when there is no excuse for such errors and with player welfare at stake. It is time to hammer home the message so let's introduce independent medical observers, heavy fines, that can be used to fund further education, a deduction of points or maybe force teams to play behind closed doors.


Richie's farewell tour?

Love him or loathe him you simply have to respect Richie McCaw. The Kiwi colossus has towered over the game since the turn of the century and collected caps, titles and awards like Dylan Hartley collects yellow cards. He is widely expected to call time on his legendary career following this year's Rugby World Cup meaning this will also be his final Super Rugby bow so it's time to do something that may come as a struggle to some of you – stand up and applaud one of the sport's greatest as it may be the last time you see him in action.


Allez Les…..Rouges?!

The French are famously unpredictable but the decision to opt for a red shirt for their Six Nations opener against Scotland in Paris was just ridiculous. Surely the absinthe was flowing ahead of the meeting that signed off the use of the new change strip – that replaces a predominantly white alternative kit – or someone at the French Rugby Federation didn't check the small print on their contract with adidas.

It also appears that their decision to ditch 50 years of tradition is not confined to their kit with the free-flowing rugby that they are famous for noticeable by its absence with the boot of Camille Lopez carrying Philippe Saint-Andre's side to victory over the Scots.


Box office Bill is back

Super Rugby returns this weekend as does Sonny Bill Williams. The code-hopping star is back at the Chiefs after his latest spell in league and hopes are high that he swiftly reclaims his status as one of the world's most exciting talents. His class is clearly not in doubt – the All Blacks wasted no time in drafting him back in for the end of year tour – and if anyone can shoulder the expectation it is Williams.

He still has his sights set on global sporting domination with this year's World Cup understood to be just a stepping stone to another boxing challenge and Olympic gold medal glory with the New Zealand Sevens side in Brazil next year. The hope is that Williams focuses on the here and now and shelves those dreams and gets back to doing what he does best – lighting up a rugby field.

It is just a shame that fans will be denied the opportunity to see Williams up against another of the sport's big box office stars – Israel Folau. It is a mystery as to how Super Rugby officials could miss the opportunity to showcase two such talents during the regular season with fans – and the sport – left to hope that their sides make it through to the knock-out stages.


Drugs shame highlights pressure to perform

One player who will not be lacing up his boots this weekend, or any match day in the near future, is Stormers and Western Province lock Gerbrandt Grobler who has been banned for two years after testing positive for a banned substance during last year's Currie Cup competition.

Sadly, it is just the latest warning that drugs remain a real threat to the integrity of the game – and it is a worldwide problem with 10 club players banned in the UK last year for doping offences. If, as it appears, the 23-year-old Grobler felt so much pressure to return from the ankle injury that sidelined him for the 2014 Super Rugby season that he was willing to jeopardise his career then it strikes you there is an alarming wider problem.

WP Rugby has said it will 'continue to educate its players about using only approved supplements' but is that good enough? Is there a cultural problem that needs to be addressed? Is South African rugby doing enough to prevent such desperate behaviour?

Not according to Khalid Grant, chief excutive of the South Africa Institute for Drug-free Sport. “There is a problem," he told the Cape Argus, "and a growing problem (of steroid use in sport), and it starts in the schools." Those words should send a shiver down the spine of both the South Africa Rugby Union and World Rugby. Should WP be stripped of the Currie Cup title that a tainted Grobler was part of? A clear and emphatic message must be sent to all corners of the game to ensure no other players succumb to such pressure in the future.


Fans give Wellington the boot?

The Wellington Sevens is world famous for its colour but the predominance of one in particular at the weekend will cause major cause for concern – the swathes of yellow empty seats. The 34,500 capacity stadium was barely half full on both days as hosts New Zealand captured their latest Sevens World Series title.

With the Olympics just over a year away, interest in the shortened version of the game should be at record levels but that is clearly not the case – even in a country heavily favoured to claim gold in Rio. Organisers of the event in Wellington have promised to bounce back bigger and better but could fans be tiring of the party-like atmosphere that all such events encourage? For all the talent on show, the players are still relatively anonymous and Sevens needs big names to drive interest and engagement. Perhaps the Sonny Bill Williams Show is just what it needs?

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

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