Loose Pass

Date published: December 22 2015

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This week we will be mostly concerning ourselves with legal rows, banoffee pies and Ireland's demise.

And so it begins

Ah, welcome to England, Eddie! How typical that the new man's first big announcement as England coach should morph into an acrimonious legal row. 

Just moments after the RFU announced that Steve Borthwick was to join Jones as his new forwards coach, Bristol chimed in – panto-season style – to say that he was doing no such thing. 

In quite a fit of the tizzies, club owner Steve Lansdown took to the radio to denounce Twickenham as "totally unprofessional" for thinking "they can ride roughshod over everybody".

"I don't think the RFU have covered themselves in any form of glory whatsoever," concluded Lansdown, and you'd be hard pressed to disagree.

All music to the ears of the RFU's busy lawyers. They laced up and got stuck in, sorting out the broken contracts, hurt feelings and assorted bits and bobs that should have been squared off well before Borthwick's annexation was announced. 

How did the RFU get this so wrong? It's only a matter of weeks since they went through exactly the same process to prise Jones away from the Stormers. And, what's worse, they are now said to be doing the same with Alex King, copping a feel behind Northampton's back. 

One of the main criticisms levels at RFU chief executive Ian Ritchie is that he is not 'a rugby man'. As Sir Clive Woodward is perhaps a little too fond of pointing out, the former barrister has surrounded himself with directors for finance, for marketing, for legal, for communications, for commercial activity – but not for rugby. 

With that in mind, part of Loose Pass feels that the Borthwick's passage might have been secured via the sinking of a couple of pints of cider at Ashton Gate. But perhaps we're living in the past. Rugby's a business now, and Bristol are entitled to adequate compensation. 

But did Lansdown really need to air his grievances so publicly? Rumour has it that he was after a level of compensation far in excess of what his club – as a Championship side – is entitled. Perhaps he thought pitching a grenade into the RFU's beleaguered PR department would elicit a bit more wonga. Perhaps it worked.

But we daren't not speculate on legal proceedings. It's just lamentable that the RFU has yet to convince England's clubs to pull in the same direction.  

Jones has remained resolutely tight-lipped on the matter, but one could take a reasonable stab at how he feels. Here's a man who, as coach on the Wallabies, could tell Australia's mighty Super Rugby franchises which players they could deploy, how often they could play them and in which positions. And now here he is, as head coach of world rugby's biggest union, having his first official decree returned to him by a second-tier club, soaked in urine. 

Your first month's pay should be with you any day now, Eddie. Keep smiling! 

The great reformation

We're not alone in wishing we could force Eddie Jones to talk. British rugby writers are so desperate for the inside track that they've begun to make stuff up. 

Apparently Jones made some "off-guarded comments" – which have yet to be even partially transcribed – about Dylan Hartley. It seems the Australian regards him as a decent player. Yeah, 65-odd caps for England, captain of a Premiership-winning club, a decent player … Jones evidently knows his onions.

But for Fleet Street, Jones's alleged comments were evidence enough that the Saints hooker is poised to be anointed England skipper. 

And then the same hacks rounded on Jones for making such a stupid suggestion – which, of course, he hadn't. What was he thinking, they thundered. Had it escaped his notice that Hartley has served over a year of suspensions for a string of thuggish misdemeanours? Had the new man not had the gumption to swot up on English rugby before he landed here?

Questionable media ethics aside, it makes for great pub debate – and Loose Pass confesses to have been swept up in it all. 

Push comes to shove, we believe there'd be few better candidates than Hartley. England are long on role models, but short of match-winnings bullies. They've been fielding Tim Henmans when they are in dire need of some Andy Murrays.

As Stephen Ferris would attest, Hartley offers bite. Properly channelled/muzzled, his doggedness could be an inspiration to those around him. And at 29 years of age (and as tough as teak), he could offer steady leadership well past Japan 2019.

But somehow we can't see it happening. 

Fresh from being forced to welcome an Australian coach, we can't see how the Barbour Brigade would accept a New Zealander as captain. One foreigner may be regarded as a misfortune; two looks like carelessness.

Ireland's call

Is Irish rugby in freefall? It's a question that will undoubtedly send rage pulsing through the comments section at the foot of this page, but Loose Pass can hold its peace no longer. 

Where once they bossed Europe, the proud provinces of Munster and Leinster have looked like pub teams this term. Ulster are beginning to click under Les Kiss after a poor start. Connacht, flying high in the PRO12 but thumped by Newcastle, are being picked apart by injuries.

How does this all square with the performance of the national side which, lest we forget, holds the Six Nations crown, recently climbed to second in the world rankings and made a decent enough fist of their World Cup challenge?

Yes, that defeat to Argentina betrayed a worrying lack of depth, but the provinces are still able to supplement their squads with decent imports from south of the equator. So what gives? 

Could it be that Irish tables have finally turned? Not long ago, love of province trumped love of country. You'd find it easier to come by a ticket to watch Ireland in the Six Nations than, say, one for Munster at home in the Heineken Cup. 

These days, however, the men in green are able to pull in record RWC crowds whilst TV crews struggle to crop out the rows of empty seats at the RDS and Thomond Park.

Have Irish fans fallen out of love with domestic rugby, or do the IRFU's priorities lie elsewhere – namely within the confines of the Aviva Stadium?

If the demise of Matt O’Connor is anything to go by, it's the latter. The Australian coach parted ways with Leinster at the end of last season after he questioned why his Test stars were forced to sit out pivotal matches for the province.

O'Connor was promptly succeeded by Leo Cullen who – much like Anthony Foley over in Munster – somehow landed one of world rugby's top coaching jobs as a virtual apprentice.

Fine players though the were, and decent coaches they might one day turn out to be – but will these young guys have the balls to challenge the IRFU when push comes to shove? 

It's hard to imagine they'll ever bite the hand that has fed them since their school days. Sadly, one suspects that the IRFU knows this to be true.

Taking the biscuit

If, like Loose Pass, you fret that professional rugby players spend their down-time shopping for florescent boots and taking selfies, we bring you cockle-warming news from Devon.

Thomas Waldrom, Exeter's New Zealand-born forgotten England man, recently offered the Guardian a fascinating insight into his new life. It turns out many of the Chiefs are chefs.

Waldrom has revealed he has joined the team's Cookie Club, with members meeting every Wednesday afternoon to share recipe tips and explore their inner Mary Berry. 

“I told them I was definitely the sort of guy who could add a lot,” reports the hulking number eight. 

“I like to mix it up. I’ve done mini banoffee pies and a doughnut cake. There were probably four packets of mini-doughnuts in it. It was quite nice assembling it into a tower.”

And with that, Loose Pass offers you an indulgence-filled Christmas. Enjoy!

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

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