Loose Pass

Date published: October 20 2015

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This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with a World Cup headache, DC’s outrageous offload and a not-so-exclusive club.

Why'd you have to go and make things so complicated?

Australia booked their place in the Rugby World Cup semi-finals in the most dramatic fashion but sadly a thrilling contest was over-shadowed by a controversial finale and a fiery debate that highlighted one of the sport’s problems.

Instead of celebration and commiseration there was confusion and conjecture after a ricocheting rugby ball led to a dubious offside call and a match-winning penalty.

Scottish supporters raged in the stadium as they watched the big screen replays convinced Australia’s Nick Phipps had intentionally played the ball and in doing so had played Scotland’s Jon Welsh onside.

Had referee Craig Joubert made the wrong decision? Others took to social media to question why did he not go to the Television Match Official for clarification?

Feelings of injustice intensified just a few moments later as Joubert ditched the tradition of shaking hands with the players and sprinted to the tunnel having blown the final whistle – was he escaping the scene of his mistake or avoiding a missile thrown from the crowd? Whatever his reasoning his decision was wrong and does not reflect well on him.

Clarification eventually emerged that the Laws of the game did not allow Joubert to seek clarification from the TMO – who can only offer help with offences committed in build-up to try, foul play, or scoring of try. Although some argue the parameters of the foul play option allowed him to check.

But the thing is that not even the Scotland coach and players appeared aware of the limitations.

Scotland coach Vern Cotter insisted a referral to the TMO “would have taken away any doubt” while his captain Greig Laidlaw pleaded: "They go to TMO for everything else, why not for that?"

As for the penalty decision itself, it had experts clambering for the Laws book for clarification and even then many were still left scratching their heads. Who had got the last touch? Was it intentional? Had the offending player retreated?

It does appear Joubert was wrong but he made a judgement call in the heat of the moment and it is wrong to blame him for Scotland’s defeat when there were so many variables at play throughout the game.

The brain ache caused by a few seconds of intense knock-out rugby emphasises the huge barrier preventing rugby union from becoming a truly global sport. 

The apparent ambiguity and the average fan’s inability to celebrate the latest dramatic chapter in what has been a thrilling tournament suggest that the Laws are just too complicated.

The Laws surely need to be simplified to avoid such confusion and allow the casual supporter to engage fully with the sport rather than alienate them.

Only then will the sport become truly global and if it doesn’t it will be eclipsed by the shorter version of the game.

The best pass ever?

All Blacks winger Julian Savea may have done his best to steal all the headlines in Cardiff on Saturday night but Dan Carter’s contribution was worthy of equal praise – especially one moment of magic.

Carter’s role in his side’s third try deserves to live just as long in the memory as Savea’s outstanding Lomu-esque tackle-busting score such was the insane level of skill we were all treated to.

His dummy, injection of pace, fend and then reverse flick pass both fixed and foxed four French defenders and laid a try on a plate for Savea. Have we seen a better pass in a World Cup or on any rugby pitch?

It was surely better than the oft-repeated over-the-shoulder pass by Australia’s David Campese to Tim Horan during their 1991 Rugby World Cup semi-final victory over New Zealand?

And given the stage, it was more than a match for Tamati Ellison’s ridiculous no-look-round-the-back pass for the Highlanders a couple of years ago and endless mind-bending efforts conjured by Quade Cooper or Sonny Bill Williams during their respective careers?

Those examples cited above were all high-risk options but there was no such fear of failure in Carter’s case – this was one of the most talented men to have laced up a pair of boots playing at the top of his game.

Priceless passion

New Zealand coach Steve Hansen was no doubt pleased with Carter’s contribution, but his delight is unlikely to have topped South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer’s reaction to another awe-inspiring pass – Duane Vermeulen’s to Fourie du Preez for the stunning match-winner against Wales.

Meyer’s delight was there for all to see and a world away from the broken man that fronted up to cameras in the wake of his side’s opening defeat to Japan.

Such public passion from a coach is a welcome sight and Meyer’s willingness to wear his emotions on his sleeve will win himself and the sport many new fans.

Clap a cap?

Australia’s narrow victory over Scotland also saw Stephen Moore and Matt Giteau join an increasingly not-so-exclusive club.

The Wallabies’ hooker and centre became the 40th and 41st players to reach 100 Test caps and they follow hot on the heels of Wales’ Alun-Wyn Jones, New Zealand’s Ma’a Nonu and Scotland’s Sean Lamont who have also reached a century of international appearances in recent days.

France’s Philippe Sella was the first to rack up a century back in 1994 and he was the only player to reach such a career milestone in the amateur era. 

The dawn of professionalism a year later would lead to a significant increase in the amount of Test match rugby but Sella still had to wait until 1996 for some company in the form of Australia’s Campese and they would eventually be joined by England’s Jason Leonard in 2003.

The doormen of this particular club have been kept very busy since then with a bumper international calendar allowing the sport’s leading players to feast on Test caps regularly throughout the year.

A century was once a reflection of a herculean effort and incredible consistency over the course of career but the honour that accompanies such an achievement has diminished in an age where Test caps are as easy to come by as a bottle of champagne in the West Car Park at Twickenham.

For example, it took Leonard 13 years to reach 100 Test caps while Moore collected his 100th cap just 10 years after his debut. 

There are others on course to hit three figures even quicker with New Zealand’s Sam Whitelock having already reached 71 caps since making his debut in 2010.

New Zealand captain Richie McCaw may currently lead the way with 146 caps from his 14-year career but he may not hold that record for long.

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

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