Loose Pass

Date published: October 27 2015

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This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with SBW’s caring side, the mauling of McCaw and Bronze Medal Match malarkey.

A giant on and off the field

All Blacks centre Sonny Bill Williams may have had a relatively quiet Rugby World Cup given his capacity to captivate, but he did produce one headline-grabbing move on Saturday night that said so much more than any audacious offload.

The image of him comforting Springboks centre Jesse Kriel in the shadow of the posts following their semi-final showdown at Twickenham was rightfully hailed as a superb example of the kind of sportsmanship that often sets rugby union apart.

The classy and self-less Williams – who earlier this week also offered two tickets for the game to any Syrian refugee – opted to put his celebrations on ice and instead seek out his beaten rival who had slumped against a post as dejection and exhaustion took their toll.

Williams then knelt down beside Kriel and consoled him with the heartfelt message that it could so easily have been the All Blacks reflecting on the end of their World Cup campaign, so narrow was their margin of victory following what was a brutal clash.

World Cup winner Williams also assured his younger foe, who is clearly destined for great things after another eye-catching display, that he will have many more opportunities at this level during his burgeoning career.

The image itself is sure to live long in the memory and it deserves its place in the history books alongside that of the winning captain lifting the World Cup next weekend.

Mitchell magic justifies selection policy

The most magical moment on the field of play at the weekend was Drew Mitchell’s break to set up Adam Ashley-Cooper for the crucial try during Australia’s victory over Argentina.

His mazy run through the Pumas’ defence made a fool of many – including me – who spend their Sunday mornings urging minis to run straight with the ball as the Wallabies’ winger covered more metres across the pitch than he did going towards the try line.

But given Mitchell’s heroics, perhaps the most important Australia victory was that achieved by coach Michael Cheika earlier this year.

Once upon a time the Wallabies’ boss would not have been able to select Mitchell due to the fact that he plays overseas for French club Toulon. But he demanded changes to the Australian Rugby Union’s selection policy that re-opened the door for veterans like Mitchell and Matt Giteau who had moved abroad for a new challenge – and a nice pay day.

Cheika’s insistence on being able to pick who he considered his best players no matter where they played offers an important lesson to tournament hosts England and in particular head coach Stuart Lancaster.

England were denied the services of highly-rated flanker Steffon Armitage due to the fact he plays his club rugby in France. The aim of that policy is to protect the Premiership and English rugby in general but may have done more harm than good in the wake of their shock early exit that leaves their legacy plans in tatters.

McCaw not guilty – he’s the victim

If you missed SBW’s caring side on your social media timeline, it is probably because it was drowned out by the furore that was sparked by a clip of All Blacks captain Richie McCaw clattering into South Africa’s Francois Louw.

Twitter exploded into life as the footage and ensuing debate ricocheted around the rugby globe. Did McCaw elbow his rival in the head? Will he get cited? Will he miss the World Cup final?

Now I’m a big fan of the micro-blogging site but not a huge fan of some of the people who use it. Few took time to analyse the footage, preferring instead to put the boot into a player, who of course has been known to polarise opinion, in anticipation of a citing that they hoped would rule him out of the final.

They were not the only guilty party with many media outlets pouncing on the story and feasting on the potential of McCaw missing the big one even though close scrutiny of the evidence suggested it was just an accidental collision and did not even involved an elbow.

It took 24 hours for World Rugby to come to that conclusion but All Blacks coach Steve Hansen did not need that long, telling media the morning after the game: "There is nothing in it, so there's nothing to talk about.”

Thanks goodness McCaw is not a Twitter kind of guy.

Bronze medal match malarkey

South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer was in fine form following his side’s World Cup at the hands of New Zealand but I’m not sure World Rugby will appreciate all his comments.

Asked his thoughts about the second semi-final and his side’s possible opponent in the Bronze Medal Match next Friday night, Meyer insisted he had little interest in the rest of the competition.

“It doesn’t mean anything for me; it’s like kissing your sister.”

However, while the coach may want for motivation despite speculation over his future in the role, at least one player will certainly be fired up for the game – Bryan Habana.

The Springboks winger did not have his best game against the All Blacks – and maybe his worst? – with a deliberate knock-on, a spell in the sin-bin, an ugly challenge on Nehe Milner-Skudder and an ill-advised charge of a Dan Carter conversion attempt just some of the lowlights.

With international retirement looming, that is clearly not the way he would choose to bring the curtain down on a glittering Test career.

As a result of his disappointing showing against the All Blacks, he also remains locked alongside New Zealand’s Jonah Lomu in the all-time stats with 15 World Cup tries.

At 32 years old, a fourth World Cup is even beyond the age-defying Habana which means he has one last chance to eclipse the mark of one of his heroes.

Mix in the emotion surrounding the final Springboks bow of the likes of Victor Matfield and Fourie du Preez and suddenly the game takes on much more significance that Meyer would have you believe.

How old?!

Seventeen-year-old Ben White became the second youngest player to ever lace up a pair of boots in the Aviva Premiership at the weekend when the scrum-half made his debut in the victory against Harlequins.

The scrum-half may only have appeared for the final 90 seconds of the game but that should not detract from his graduation from the Tigers’ academy at an age when I’m sure I was still struggling to do up my boots.

He is a credit to his family and coaches having reached the Premiership stage at such a young age, but can he match the likes of George North and James O’Connor who went even further and graced international rugby as 18-year-olds?

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

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