Loose Pass

Date published: October 13 2015

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with a free-scoring Bryan Habana, Sean Oh-Brien and James Haskell’s Twitter rant.

All hail Habana

South Africa wing Bryan Habana’s performance during and after his side’s 64-0 drubbing of Rugby World Cup rivals USA served as a reminder of his class both on and off the field.

His crowd-pleasing hat-trick carried him to the top of the try-scoring charts for the current tournament – a position he currently shares with New Zealand’s Julian Savea – and also brought him level with All Blacks legend Jonah Lomu in the list of most prolific try scorers in the history of the World Cup.

Rather than wallow in his success and the adulation of hundreds of fans clambering to share in his latest career highlight, Habana’s immediate response was to pay tribute – not for the first time – to Lomu.”I don’t think I can ever be compared to Jonah,” said the 32-year-old. “The way he changed the game, you know he was a class act.”

He later took to social media to underline his respect for his predecessor.

“I personally don’t think I can be equated to a player that changed the game in the most commanding way ever and became rugby’s first true global superstar,” he insisted.

Those comments are typical of the humble Habana, who may not have had such a seismic effect on the sport as Lomu but stands alongside him as one of the giants of the modern game.

Some will have you believe that Habana, who is playing in his third World Cup, does not warrant comparison with Lomu who scored his 15 World Cup tries in just two tournaments.

It is true that Lomu was a more devastating all-round player, that he rewrote the manual when it comes to wing play and elevated the sport to unprecedented levels but that should not undermine Habana’s contribution to the game.

His prowess as a poacher and a finisher has helped set the standard for attacking play for over a decade while his attitude, demeanour and infectious smile has no doubt won the sport a legion of loyal fans and respect.

Habana is also in possession of a World Cup winners’ medal – something that eluded Lomu.

So instead of belittling one player’s career in favour of another, why not celebrate both and be grateful for the contribution that they have made to the game?

In this kind of form the odds are that Habana will make the World Cup record his own before this tournament is done – Wales await in the quarter-finals this coming weekend – but he should really have eclipsed that mark already having spurned a great opportunity to cap an outstanding display with a fourth try against the Eagles.

But there is one other significant record within his grasp. Only Japan’s Daisuke Ohata has scored more Test tries than Habana with the South African having drawn level with Australia’s David Campese with what was his 64th score last time out.

Time is not on Habana’s side but you would bet he adds the six tries he needs to eclipse Ohata and it would be a fitting career finale for a player who is a credit to his country, his faith and his sport.

Stupid SOB

Ireland’s Sean O’Brien delivered a towering performance in his side’s dominant 24-9 victory over Pool D rivals France in Cardiff on Sunday – it is just a shame it will be his last in this World Cup.

His outstanding performance was marred by one act of stupidity – a punch aimed at France’s Pascal Papé – that is destined to end with a ban and rob Ireland of one of their key weapons for the remainder of the tournament.

O’Brien was clearly fired up for what was a crunch clash and obviously more than a little frustrated by Papé’s interest in his shirt and the Frenchman’s recent 10-week ban for kneeing Irish rival Jamie Heaslip earlier this year may have lingered at the back of his mind, but his actions are still inexcusable.

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt did his best to play down his player’s crime insisting he struck his rival with an ‘open fist’ but inside he must be infuriated by such a costly lack of indiscipline.

O’Brien’s embarrassment will be matched by that felt by referee Nigel Owens, assistants Wayne Barnes and Leighton Hodges along with Television Match Official Graham Hughes – none of whom spotted the act of foul play.

Understandably, France coach Philippe Saint-André laboured the point post-game and highlighted how quickly and regularly replays have been used elsewhere in the tournament but not on this occasion.

There may have only been 23 seconds on the clock when the incident occurred but the loss of a player to the sin-bin – especially someone as pivotal as O’Brien – would have had a major impact on the pattern of the game.

Adding fuel to Saint-André’s ire will be the fact that O’Brien went on to dominate the contest and claim the Man of the Match honour.

The fact that a player guilty of such an act of foul play goes on to be named the best player in the game is just another ridiculous and embarrassing slight on the sport offered by a laughable Man of the Match mechanism.

Six Nations can’t come soon enough for England

“Engaging in a public Twitter argument is a battle you won’t win,” the RFU Communications department warned the England squad ahead of the World Cup. “You’ll only end up looking foolish.”

It appears that at least one member of the squad may have misplaced that document following a high-profile spat on the micro-blogging site last week.

James Haskell got involved in an ugly war-of-words with former England flanker Neil Back ahead of their final World Cup outing against Uruguay that did neither any favours.

Back’s reference to Haskell’s use of a ‘selfie-stick’ at England’s opener against Fiji – a match in which Haskell did not play – sparked a stinging response.

“I wasn’t even playing!” wrote Haskell “You’re so old and out of touch your eyes don’t work. I hope your book sales go better than your coaching.”

He later signed off: “Rule No.1. Never meet your heroes.”

A public slanging match – just a day after Haskell took aim at another former England flanker Lewis Moody – goes a long way to illustrating the frustration felt within the current squad.

But taking aim at critics in such a way does them no favours. They need to suck it up, draw a line under a woeful World Cup campaign and move on.

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

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