Loose Pass

Date published: November 24 2015

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This week we will be mostly concerning ourselves with Eddie Jones, Jake White, Richie McCaw and Jonah Lomu.

Eddie Jones and the Temple of Doom

It speaks volumes of English rugby that Eddie Jones's jury has entered into deliberations before his trial has even begun. 

Some pundits have declared he's unworthy – even unfit – to coach the national team by dint of nationality. Did he know the words to God Save The Queen, they asked. Would he sing it?

Others rounded on RFU boss Ian Ritchie, claiming that the installation of Jones into a structure devoid of an all-powerful director of rugby is doomed to fail. For them it's a case of placing the near-literal coach before the proverbial horses. 

And one very prominent player-turned-scribe even suggested that Jones had achieved relatively little in the last 12 years, opining – slightly unhelpfully – that England should have actually recruited him in 2001.

But, if nothing else, Jones talks a good game. He appeared to win over the assembled hacks during his first press conference in south-west London. 

But that's not to say he was afforded a warm, welcoming hug. Far from it. He was damned with faint praise: a "worldly" coach with a "wide-ranging CV" is really just Fleet Street for 'untrustworthy fly-by-night'. This is the crime which they will pin on him once the going gets bumpy – and the going will get bumpy, it always does.

But to hell with them. Loose Pass sees no reason to be so jaundice. We'd go as far as to say that the elevation of a foreigner to the post of England coach shows a commendable amount of humility – and that's something that's been entirely absence from Twickenham since Billy Williams's last cabbage was uprooted.

At a stroke – and not before time – English rugby has acknowledged that it is in desperate need of outside help. New ideas are needed, and the acerbic Australian could be the breath of fresh air that finally rids Twickers of the lingering stench of 'old fart'.

We can only hope – for England's sake – that the powers-that-be have the guts to allow the new man to poke his nose into all areas of the national game. He's sure to have strong opinions about what he find there, and the RFU is beholden to England's beleaguered fans to act on what he tells them.

But don't bet on it. For reasons unknown, the English prefer their rugby coaches to operate with one arm tied firmly behind their backs. 

White mischief 

For better or for worse, Eddie Jones has Jake White to thank for his new gig – or so Jake White would have us believe. 

The former Bok supremo recently claimed he could help England win the World Cup and promptly installed himself as front-runner for the vacancy, pointing out that he'd been the bridesmaid who got within snogging distance of the rosy groom on two previous occasions. 

But the Montpellier coach says he didn't meet with the RFU to discuss the job, even though he mysteriously remained in England following his side's 41-18 defeat to Harlequins last week. He was actually meeting sponsors, he says.

And although he rejected subsequent reports that he had, indeed, met with the RFU (and that he had failed to impress), he chose to officially rule himself out of the running on Thursday evening, thereby paving the way for Jones's accession.

Curiously, Jones had already put pen to paper before White so graciously stepped aside – but it's the thought that counts, right? 

And whilst White was busy batting his eyelids at England, remaining in England, seeing sponsors, not seeing the RFU and issuing a series of statements for the benefit English press, his charges were preparing for their second Challenge Cup match of the season. 

Fresh from being pumped by Quins, they made amends by running ten tries past Calvisano, winning 64 zip. 

All of which can only lead Loose Pass to suggest that – like England – Montpellier might be better off without White in charge. 

The Greatest Of All Time

And so, as expected, the great Richie McCaw has decided to hang up his well-worn boots. And why not? He had absolutely nothing else to achieve. 

The stats are mind-boggling. He takes his bow as rugby's most capped Test player, a three-time World Player of the Year and the only captain to hoist the Webb Ellis trophy on two separate occasions.

He won 148 Test caps playing in what is arguably rugby's most brutal position. Just dwell on that figure for a moment: 148! And no less than 111 of these as captain. 111! He won 131 of these game, including all three Tests he played against the British & Irish Lions. 131!

What's more remarkable is that he did it all in total defiance of sport's most steadfast mantra: he actually put in what God left out. 

For those of you standing ready to accuse Loose Pass of treason, we call a witness to our defence: Steve Hansen. 

Recalling his first encounter with a 17-year-old McCaw, the All Black boss had this to say: "When he first arrived he had four feet and couldn't catch a cold. But what he did have was a massive capacity to learn – and a massive, massive ticker."

And that's the glorious essence of the man nick-named GOAT. The Greatest Of All Time wasn't touched with greatness. He was not a gift from rugby gods. All that he achieved came through sheer force of character. 

There's surely a lesson in there for all of us. If only we could lift ourselves off the sofa.

The most gentle of giants

The death of Jonah Lomu leaves an out-sized tear in the fabric of our game. The All Black legend was rugby's most famous son and will surely retain that status for decades to come. 

There's not much Loose Pass can add that hasn't already be said, but this writer would like to offer his own personal memory of the great man. 

I first met him in the build-up to Rugby World Cup 2003 and was delighted and astounded that he accepted my totally impromptu request for an interview. 

We sat and chatted at length about the World Cup, about his tips for the tournament, the All Blacks' prospects and the state of the world game in general. 

I walked away convinced I had got my mitts on pure gold. It was only when I read through my notes that I realised that this hulking beast of a man had been far too nice to have ventured anything of even passable interest. It transpired that he had even refused to name four possible semi-finals for fear of upsetting any sensibilities. I'd come face to face with rugby's sole superstar and had been left clutching thin air. I felt very Mike Catt. 

My next chance came four years later at a similar junket. This time I was ready. This time I would go in low and hard. 

"Jonah," I call. "In two words max, who do you hope will come out top in France?"

"The fans," he replied. And he meant it. 

Jonah Lomu was more than a rugby legend, he was a good man – utterly humble with absolutely nothing to be humble about. He shall be missed. 

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

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