Loose Pass

Date published: February 23 2016

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with a busy weekend, bonus points and insurance wrangles…

The competitive bonus

It is probably the one weekend where I truly get away with it. The one where my wife succumbs to the excited child bouncing off the walls in front of her and utters those magic words: “yes, you can watch all the rugby at the weekend” before returning her attention to the actual children of the household. The one where she forgets what the onset of Super Rugby actually means for screen time – and quickly lays down a few new screen-time rules after the end of the action on the Sunday (which is when that freedom I talked about comes to an abrupt end).

Yes, from Friday at half past six in the morning until the climax of the Toulouse-Montpellier clash at about five on Sunday afternoon, it is the rugby weekend from heaven. Nine Super Rugby fixtures, the Six Nations, a full slate of Premiership, PRO12 and Top 14 are all jostling for the fan’s attention, with a brief and welcome Sunday morning respite for one to quickly make sure the world is still turning.

Bonus points may well be a subject of conversation all over the place. In Super Rugby the bonus point system has been changed to reward a team for winning by three tries or more, rather than just scoring four tries, which will apparently ‘encourage more competitive rugby for the full 80 minutes’. The theory runs that both teams will be pressing harder throughout the game to nullify, maintain or extend the three-try lead against each other, rather than just aiming to rack up four tries. The concept does makes sense, although ‘competitive’ is no synonym with ‘aesthetically pleasing’. That may sound an odd thing to say, but frequently such aspects of the game are changed with more of an eye to the aesthetic than to the strictly competitive.

Competitive is what the Six Nations indisputably is (would be even more so if Italy could manage it for 80 minutes instead of 60). The average points difference between teams this year has been 7.33; take away England’s late gallop against the Italians and it is 2.6. But easy on the eye, as my colleague gently hinted at last week, it is often not.

People say bonus points is the answer. A cursory glance back at the past five editions of the Six Nations – under the familiar bonus point system – reveals that only in 2013 would we have had different winners. England would have picked up a try bonus in their win over Scotland meaning they would have been a point ahead of Wales at the end. Interestingly, under the new bonus system, another try for Wales in that last match in Cardiff would have given the title back to them, for winning 3-0 in tries rather than 2-0 as happened.

Last year, the three teams tied at the top would have been tied on 18 points instead of 8. Under the new system, England would have had only 17, for failing to win by three tries against France (seven tries to five that day).

So bonus points seem to be near-irrelevant, although obviously it’s a bit off to retrospectively apply them to matches in which the teams were not playing for them. But the new system does seem to have slight merits on rewarding competitive victories rather than random tryfests (rewarding attack for getting the three-try margin, and defence for maintaining it, rather than just rewarding attack).

So it will be interesting to see how the new system slots into the Super Rugby tournament which produces more entertainment than the Six Nations, but occasionally at the expense of the competitive edge that makes the Six Nations so rewardingly tense.

The new system, which helps reward that competitiveness, should redress that balance. It could also prove to be more palatable for Europe’s elite, thus perhaps making the rugby more palatable for the fans.

Employees matter

The treatment of Handré Pollard is nothing short of disgraceful. The Springbok fly-half is set to not see a cent in wages this Super Rugby season after he suffered a season-ending knee injury during pre-season up at Loftus.

Apparently, Pollard would not be covered by his insurance until he actually played a game for the Bulls.

Apparently, taking part in full contact training sessions, putting bone and sinew at risk in order to become the best possible player for a team – and thus the best possible employee for a company – does not count as work active enough for a professional sport player to be medically insured by his employer.

What utter rubbish. We’ll spell this one out in words that any administrator could surely understand:

Player signs contract, stating work hours in return for salary over a length of time. Player is injured at work in normal work conditions, with no sign of negligence. Injuries are occupational hazard. Therefore player should be paid.

Is there anybody out there who can find a good rational argument for having a young man put body on the line for his organisation and then find himself abandoned like this? Answers on a postcard please…

Loose Pass compiled by former Planet Rugby Editor Danny Stephens