Loose Pass

Date published: March 1 2016

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This week we will be mostly concerning ourselves with basic skills, Mike Brown's boot and the law…

Mind games

As regular readers of this column will be aware, Loose Pass has copped copious flak for dismissing the Six Nations as, well, a bit rubbish. 

You might not believe it, but the attack gave us no pleasure: we love the old girl and it pains us to see her hobbling along under all her finery. We'd gladly eat our words and we watched the latest batch of games with fork and knife at the ready. 

Sadly, what we witnessed only reinforced our belief that Europe has gone backwards since the World Cup. It was another weekend of largely witless rugby.

Our detractors are probably expecting us to reach for the opening round of Super Rugby and fashion some sort of argument from the fact that those nine matches averaged 5.9 tries to the 3.3 scored in Europe, but we won't do that. Flat comparisons are useless: on the one side you have guys pulling on international jerseys made heavy by the weight of history and national expectation; on the other you have, erm, Sunwolves. It's sumo versus lucha libre; fine wine versus alcopops. 

But what we can compare are basic skill levels, and European rugby urgently needs to ask itself why more passes stick south of the equator. 

Our one frustration with the Six Nations is that, time after time after time, promising attacks end in self-mutilation. Support runners aren't spotted, passes don't go to hand, opportunities aren't seized, thinking turns to mush in the very moment when all that is needed is clarity. 

Not so down south. They are at their best when the game breaks up. Forced to play off the cuff and rely on instinct alone, they stay cool and go up a gear. Opportunities don't knock, they are taken. Points are rarely left out on the pitch as they were all over Europe at the weekend.

Why the difference? Why can't we Europeans catch and pass like they do down south? It can't be nature – unless there's some sort of uncharted hemispheric kink in our planet's gravitational alignment – so it must be nurture. What aren't we teaching our kids? 

Or could it be that we are teaching them too much? There's a fetish in Europe for breaking down the game of rugby into individual components and loading specific coaches into each of these exacting pigeonholes. You've got your scrum coach, your lineout coach, your attack coach and your defence coach – to name but a few.

But obviously you can't coach instinct, and if this edition of the Six Nations is to be remembered for anything it will be the palpable sense of panic that descends each and every time the game veers off script. Verve appears to have been coached out of the players. No one appears capable of thinking on their own two feet. 

Well, there is one guy: Billy Vunipola. And the genesis of the England man's startling burst of form lends ballast to our slightly flimsy theory. He puts his rebirth down to five words of advice he received from his new Aussie coach: "Just play like a Tongan."

Mummy's watching

And so England full-back Mike Brown is free to play a full part in the crunch clash against Wales after escaping a citing for that ugly incident that left Ireland's Conor Murray with stitches in his face.

You'll recall that Brown's boot made repeated contact with the scrum-half's head as he attempted to dislodge the ball from the hands of the prone Munsterman.

That Brown walked free was to be expected given that both the referee and TMO reviewed the incident during the game and found nothing untoward.

We'd add that Murray was preventing release of the ball and that Brown was entitled to compete for it, but something seem seriously amiss here. 

Rugby is trying so hard to prove itself a safe game for kids. We've got head injury protocols, a ban on neck rolls and a real bee in our collective bonnet about tackles that stray "beyond the horizontal". 

And yet it's okay to repeatedly swing your boot – plus extra muscular leg – in the vicinity of a man's head? 

If Brown's actions are covered by the laws then the laws must change. The practice of disrupting opposition ruck-ball by attempting to kick at it is on the rise. Sooner or later someone will lose an eye or worse. And Mummy won't wait around for the reactive law change – she'll simply cancel mini rugby forthwith and forever. 

People power

It was quite a weekend for assistant referees – the bods formerly/fondly known as touch judges. It seems that they've been given the green light to add their tuppenceworth wherever they see fit. 

We're not quite sure where we stand on this. We've had reason to use this column to damn the reticence of these guys – mostly notably during a certain World Cup quarter-final involving Scotland. But now we fear that the authority of the man in the middle is in danger of being eroded – that there could be too many cooks. 

Players have also been emboldened by the dawn of open governance, and their on-going quibbles to the referee often get lengthy replies. 

If it all leads to better decisions, we're all for it. But we can't help but feel that rugby's laws are better enforced by a dictator than a democrat. 

Your thoughts?

Loose Pass is compiled by former Planet Rugby Editor Andy Jackson

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