Loose Pass

Date published: November 10 2015

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This week we will be mostly concerning ourselves with Sam Burgess, shed maintenance, Nigel Owens and the Olympic Games.

Man down

How felicitous that Sam Burgess took his leave from the 15-man game on November 5. The RFU needed a Guy to place atop the bonfire of its own inadequacies, and up stepped a traitor who willingly threw himself into the flames.

More than a traitor, an outsider. A virtual foreigner who was lured across rugby’s divide by little more than money. A pantomime villain who immediately jumped the queue of young union-grown centres only to high-tail it out of town after having the gall to decide that wearing the rose was not for him.

If you are nodding away to any of this, shame on you. Burgess did little wrong.

Some of the criticism levelled at him in recent days would suggest he was absolutely central to England’s disastrous World Cup campaign. According to most leading pundits, the new kid was one of the team’s leaders.

Really?

In truth, he was little more than a peripheral figure. His main role within the squad – if one were forced to decrypt Stuart Lancaster’s impenetrable thought processes – was to ensure that his “aura” would rub off on those around him.

Yes, he was handed a start for England’s biggest game in over a decade, but he wasn’t the worst Englishman on the pitch on that fateful day against Wales. He wasn’t even the worst ‘English’ centre on the pitch. Even his captain had a poorer game.

But that doesn’t mean to say he was great. He wasn’t even good. He just wasn’t ready.

Burgess was undone by his own eagerness. He had freely admitted that he was still learning the ropes – he didn’t even know if he was a forward or a back – but England were having none of it.

Despite his own misgivings, Burgess accepted the England jersey when it was handed to him. Should he have turned it down? Perhaps. But who would turn down the chance to represent their country? Would you? It is for coaches to decide who is up to the task and who is not.

And yet the poor guy has now been held up as some sort of pariah – the worm at the centre of England’s withered rose.

Twickenham needed a scapegoat, and the snobbery and pretensions that have stymied the English game for generations dictated that Burgess was the easiest target.

A man was fed into the England apparatus and a mouse emerged.

It would be funny if it didn’t keep happening.


Humble pie

If England really want to right their rickety chariot, they could do much worse than to look towards New Zealand.

Much has been made of the magic that propels the All Blacks, with all sort of theories advanced as to why they have just become the first team to successfully defend the Webb Ellis trophy.

My personal favourite concerns the disappearance of that leap at the end of the haka. It seems the class of 2015 find more strength in staying rooted to the spot, silently channelling the energy of their ancestors long buried within the soil beneath their feet.

Of perhaps more practically use to England is their “no di**heads policy”, which is largely self-explanatory, and the insistence that all All Blacks – regardless of rank – must “sweep the shed”. Again, this is a relatively straight-forward process by which players take it in turn to tidy the changing room at the end of a game.

Mopping up mud and crumpled tape carries some anaerobic benefits, but it’s really about keeping the players humble.

The Australians have a version of this mantra. Having thumped the USA in Chicago in the build-up to the World Cup, the Wallabies surprised the locals by returning to the pitch to clean up their technical area. Was it one of the reasons why they went on to progress to the RWC final? Probably not, but it spoke volumes of their togetherness.

It seems England take a vastly different approach to the maintenance of equipment.

According to Britain’s Sun on Sunday, their long-standing kit man is more inclined to hand out share tips than brooms.

The newspaper alleges that Dave Tennison urged England players to invest in a drilling company which subsequently went south. Way south. Some players are said to have lost more than £100,000.

A “source” told the tabloid: “No one is saying that the share tips were the reason we did so badly in the tournament – but it certainly didn’t help.”

Rather like the new-look haka, England would be advised to grow a little more grounded.


Whistle while you work

Nigel Owens underlined his reputation as one of rugby’s good guys when the wise-cracking ref appeared in Gowerton to officiate the village’s clash with Crymych in the Welsh League Division One West.

The game, Owens’s first since the Rugby World Cup final, was a fast-paced affair that went the way of the local side. Owens later joked that he’d called a few penalties in order to catch his breath.

But the grassroots affair was not without the whiff controversy. Just like the epic of the previous weekend, a suspect forward pass drew a collective whistle from the crowd – but not from Owens.

The full story can be read on Wales Online, but be warned: it features a rather gratuitous shot of Nigel in pink skimpies.


Olympic gold

What joy to see Bryan Habana named in South Africa’s Sevens squad for the 2015-2016 season!

With a promo code available on William Hill, it is fine to place a bet on them.

Having come within two fumbles and a fingertip of the RWC try-scoring record, who would begrudge the wee tyke the chance to become the first man to add an Olympic gold to a mantelpiece that already features a Rugby World Cup winners’ medal?

Yet he faces stiff competition: Sonny Bill Williams has declared his commitment to New Zealand’s tilt at gold.

And should Williams go on to claim an historic double, I’ll be pitch-side in Rio, ready to shunt my infant son into the big man’s path.

Finally, if you’d excuse a highly trivial and slightly tangential aside, did you know that only three men have hoisted both the Rugby World Cup and the Rugby Sevens World Cup? Go ahead and name both in the comments section below. Your prize? Pure kudos – lashings of it.

This week’s Loose Pass is compiled by former Planet Rugby editor Andy Jackson

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