This week we will be mostly concerning ourselves with Terry Wogan, big screens, the Basque derby and the Six Nations, of course!
The joy of six
And so three months on from the main event, the Rugby World Cup fifth-place playoff is finally upon us. As Antipodean jokes go, it's not a bad one. It's funny because it's true. We Europeans must take it on the chin – empirical evidence suggests it's our only option.
But you can keep your 'Rugby Championship' and your fancy offloads and basketball passes, your length-of-field tries and razzmatazz and dancing girls. Ask any partisan fan what they would sacrifice for a sodden 3-0 result this weekend and you'd find that 99 percent would willingly revisit the horror that was Dry January.
No, the world's best teams will not be doing battle during the Six Nations. The world's best players are also rumoured to be entirely absent from proceedings. But we put it to you that there simply isn't a sporting event capable of looking the old girl square in the eye. This will be the 133rd edition of the championship (in one guise or other), and each new year adds extra details to a fabric rich in tradition, lore and legend. The spectacle transcends mere sport: it's group therapy.
For reasons that aren't entirely clear (it's surely the beer), the Championship teases national complexes to the surface. Are you still upset about the Battle of Flodden? About Faughart? About Waterloo? About pit closures? About what the Romans failed to do for you? Here's a chance to right ancient wrongs – if only for an afternoon, and if only in one's mind. And it's about bonding. About banter. About breaking bread with your supposed foes regardless of the result. About travel and culture and having the ability to actually attend away games.
Sure, this might seem like a silly point to push, but try having a crack at it south of the equator. And then there's the eccentricities of the booty on offer: the Calcutta Cup (with its cobras and elephant), the Millennium Trophy, the Centenary Quaich, the Giuseppe Garibaldi Trophy, the newly-minted Triple Crown and, of course, the Championship Trophy itself. And let's not forget the intangible gongs: the elusive Grand Slam and the dreaded Wooden Spoon.
But before any of that loot is distributed, it's the unanswerable questions that send our heads spinning in delight, and this year's crop of posers shape something like this… Can England bounce back from the abyss that was their own World Cup? Can France relocate their va-va-voom? Can Ireland prove there's life after POC? Can Sergio Parisse pull off a final set of heroics for Italy? Can Scotland kick on from an impressive start under Vern Cotter? Can Wales finally find the maturity to deal with the favourites' tag? Well, it's almost time to find out: the greatest show in history is upon us. Bring it on!
We need your help on the next one. It concerns your position on video replays within stadiums: are you for or against passages of play being replayed during stoppages in play?
It worked well enough during the recent World Cup. It added an extra element of drama for those within the ground, and it even allowed referees to overturn a few tries that they themselves had deemed legit just seconds earlier.
You see, it's hard not to have your gaze drawn towards these giant screen – and therein lies the problem. Let's chat about Scotland's meeting with Australia in that Twickenham quarter-final. Yes, we're going to talk about Craig Joubert… again. But hear us out: this is a defence. The poor bloke made a mistake. People do. What compounded it – what made him run from the field in terror – was the fact that he was forced to absorb that mistake in high-definition slow-motion as Bernard Foley lined up the winning penalty kick.
Just imagine how that must have felt. Imagine having to push on in the clear knowledge that you've made the most terrible decision of your life. Imagine if this had happened in the first few minutes of the game. The wretched man was left high and dry by the laws that dictate that referees are not allowed to seek video adjudication in anything other than foul play or the act of scoring a try. Yes: even as he died that horrible death in front of the watching world, he was forbidden from crying out!
Given the gravity of the mistake, you'd have thought that World Rugby would have moved to include big screens – gigantic overhead evidence boards, really – within a referee's jurisdiction. If they're there, why not use them? Or they could just decide to outlaw this new trend of broadcasting replays during stoppage time – job done. But the global powers-that-be – obviously too busy tinkering with six-point tries and whatnot – have remained resolutely tight-lipped on the matter.
Meanwhile, the suits at Six Nations Rugby Ltd have not replied to our numerous requests for full clarification, but it would appear that in-stadia replays will feature during the tournament. In other words, they are also happy to push on regardless. That or it's in the hands of the home broadcaster – a situation which could lead to even bigger problems concerning what is shown on the big screens and what is not. So it's over to you: if you're with us, we're happy to front a crusade for logic. If you're not, well, we will just untwist our knickers and move along. Either way, please feel free to state your position at the foot of this page.
With the controversial/ridiculous proposal to merge Biarritz and Bayonne now seemingly/hopefully off the table, the two proud clubs got back to what they are so good at: knocking giants lumps out of each other.
Friday night's Basque derby – albeit now a fixture of the Pro D2 season – was a typically riotous affair. Five yellow cards were issued during the course of the game, and a mass brawl erupted within the first minute of play.
Loose Pass has had its knuckles rapped for allegedly excusing the odd spot of argie-bargie, so let it be known that the following clip serves only to highlight some classic wing play from Bayonne's Martin Leaveau. Watch as the teenaged speedster responses to a feigned punch by throwing a real one. Having kicked things off, he wastes absolutely no time in getting himself the hell outta Dodge. It's textbook!
It might seem slightly strange that we've seen fit to tuck in a tribute to the late Terry Wogan, but who better to have the final word?
Plus the Limerick-born broadcaster was a rugby man. He once named Paul O'Connell as his "tremendous hero" and was a life-long supporter of both Munster and London Irish. And it was his description of the two clubs' Heineken Cup match at the Madejski Stadium in 2010 to which we turned on hearing of his death.
"Munster’s followers had come in their thousands, from the furthest corners of Cork and Limerick, to be met by even more thousands of London Irish fans. Both wore their team’s favours and jerseys, waved their scarves, chanted their songs and loudly banged their drums.
"They did this shoulder to shoulder in the stands, with no bad language, no aggressive behaviour, not a hint of fisticuffs, in front of a barely discernible security presence. They even kept a respectful silence during opponents’ penalty kicks… There was hard running, ferocious, back-breaking tackling, almost savage rucking, barely controlled physical mayhem, but nobody cursed or even argued with the referee.
"Nobody pretended to be hurt, nobody tore off their shirt and ran around like an eejit when they’d scored."
For Sir Terry's sake, let's keep it ever thus.
This week’s Loose Pass is compiled by former Planet Rugby editor Andy Jackson