Loose Pass

Date published: July 8 2015

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This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with Izzy inking a new deal, Peyper's precision and the future home of the Six Nations.

Fantastic news for Folau – and the game

I don't care where your national or Super Rugby allegiance lies, we must all celebrate Israel Folau's decision to put pen to paper on a new three-year deal with the Australian Rugby Union and the Waratahs.

The re-signing of one of the sport's most exciting talents is a huge boost not only for Australian rugby but the game as a whole. Rugby union – especially in Australia – needs stars to help it punch above its weight on the sporting stage and the often breath-taking Folau certainly falls into that category.

Quite simply he is box office. Since making the switch from AFL three years ago, Folau's dazzling exploits have made him one of the sport's most feared players and most recognisable faces.

The deal to secure his services is a real coup in the face of bids to take him back to rugby league where he first caught the eye and made his name.

With his playing future decided and financial security assured, we can expect 26-year-old to be at his devastating best at this year's Rugby World Cup – you have been warned.

The only concern is that the unprecedented flexibility offered by his lucrative contract may eventually take its toll. He has been granted permission to play in Japan in the Super Rugby off-season – he will turn out for the NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes post-World Cup – and there is a fear the workload may impact on his form and fitness.

Let's hope not and one of the sport's biggest stars continues to carve it up for club and country.

Praise for Peyper

Refs have been known to take a bit of a battering in these column inches but not on this occasion – take a bow Jaco Peyper.

Some may still be seething at his decision to award the Highlanders' Elliot Dixon a try – it was – but there can be no doubt Peyper's handling of the game contributed to a free-flowing and sensational Super Rugby final that had everyone on the edge of their seat throughout.

It clearly helps when both teams come to play and are able to produce high-class rugby in the most intense of atmospheres, but Peyper's own ability to handle that pressure and perform so well is worthy of equal praise.

The ambition and enthusiasm of both teams – especially when it came to the offside line – certainly tested Peyper and his assistants but he certainly justified his selection for his first Super Rugby title-decider.

Unsurprisingly, Peyper's form has also been acknowledged with the honour of taking charge of the opening game at the World Cup between hosts England and Fiji – one of four games he will referee in the pool stages – and in this kind of form he will be in the mix for even bigger games.

So long Six Nations rights?

It appears it is only a matter of time before the Six Nations disappears from free-to-air television in the UK and joins the growing list of sporting events now only available to those prepared to pay for it.

The battle for northern hemisphere supremacy is currently available to all in the UK via the BBC under a deal that runs until 2017.

But it looks increasingly likely that they will be trumped by one of their pay-per-view rivals in the next round of rights bidding.

Tenders for the next four-year cycle were reportedly submitted this week and we can assume the pay-TV broadcasters were among those in the mix with Six Nations chief executive John Feehan having previously invited their interest.

Many will dread the possibility of the Six Nations joining the likes of Test match cricket, the Ryder Cup and the Open Championship behind a pay-wall and also the loss of a traditional fixture in their own sporting calendar.

But the fact is that the Six Nations do not have to be shown live on terrestrial TV in the UK under current broadcast regulations.

However, if live rights are sold to a pay-per-view broadcaster highlights must be made available on free-to-air television.

Despite the huge popularity of the Six Nations, the BBC may find it hard to justify an increase on the £160m it paid for the last rights package.

And regardless of the unrivalled exposure offered by the BBC, the Six Nations and the respective unions will surely be tempted by the potential riches on offer elsewhere.

It will be a tough decision. Sky and BT Sport have have served the sport very well up until this point in terms of production value but currently they can only dream of the viewing figures and exposure almost guaranteed by the BBC.

Social media magic

In the aftermath of the Highlanders' Super Rugby triumph, scrum-half Aaron Smith took to Instagram to post a picture of his boots.

They were emblazoned with the motivational messages that propelled him and his side to victory.

Alongside his usual mantra of 'Look Up' and 'Get Up' were the words 'Prove Why'. Powerful stuff.

This is social media at its best – offering a priceless insight into our heroes and their journey.

Humour is also a hit. For example, take Elliot Dixon's response to the suggestion from one critic that he 'never grounded that try'.

“Nah gee got it down :)” replied the Highlanders star.

Those with longer memories will recall the rather sporting exchange between Leicester's Tom Youngs and Northampton's Salesi Ma'afu following their high-profile fight during a Premiership semi-final a couple of season's ago.

With a World Cup looming, we can only hope that World Rugby or the unions do not ban such interaction between players and fans.

As long as the players behave themselves and do not tweet in anger, the results often serve as adverts for the game that are arguably as powerful as any action on the field.

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

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