Loose Pass

Date published: March 15 2016

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This week we will mostly concerning ourselves with the flowering of Scotland, touchline technology and New York City.

Time to cut loose

Okay, credit where credit is due. 

Loose Pass has not been overly impressed by the current edition of the Six Nations. The first three rounds were little more than a study in naivety, nerves and butchered opportunity. But the weekend's action was much more heartening for those who fear for Europe's standing in world rugby. 

Ireland opened the show with a reminder that they possess footballers of real athletic ability. Better still, their reserves appear deeper and more talented than previously believed. 

Italy, well, let's not sugarcoat it: they are in a hole. But in young thrusters like Michele Campagnaro there's signs that there could be life after Sergio Parisse. Indeed, the wider team might actually benefit from being forced to shoulder a share of the great man's many responsibilities. This will help them grow much-needed backbone, because throwing in the towel against England and the Irish is below them as men and as proud Italians.

England. Well, what a transformation! For Eddie Jones, read Dr Frankenstein. He has been busy grafting new limbs on to the moribund body of old England, and a veritable monster is beginning to emerge – it's all arms and legs and attitude. You can expect a few more swipes of the scalpel this week, with the likes of James Haskell and Chris Robshaw making way for ball players capable of supporting the likes of Maro Itoje and Billy Vunipola. The future is suddenly very bright.

Wales? Well, it was Frankenstein versus Jekyll and Hyde. So cold for so very long, and then so very hot – but oh so very briefly. Had they scored a converted try in the dying minutes, the final score would have exactly matched the famous result that scuttled England's World Cup. What's more it would have been achieved in exactly the same manner: pilfered, undeservedly, by ten solitary minutes of carefree rugby at the death. In terms of evolution, the uncanny symmetry seems to suggest that Warren Gatland's men have made zero progress since October. 

And what of the flowering of Scotland? They've been threatening to break free from ravages of mediocrity since 1991, but it was all mainly verbal. We didn't really believe it would ever happen; we're not even sure the players believed it. But now, gifted with an array of astute playmakers, a first Six Nations title is well within their grasp: the three home games of 2017 could be just the vehicle.

And finally France … or at least the rabble who turned up with proud cockerels on their chests but not in their hearts. There's something eating away at the French game and it needs to be addressed pronto. Some blame the number of foreign players in the Top 14, but the national side has just been humbled by a country which boasts fewer professional rugby players than France's tiny Basque region! 

No, there's enough French players – they are just playing the wrong sort of rugby. And it's so sad because you can see that they want to play the right sort of rugby, and in the likes of Wesley Fofana and Gaël Fickou they have operators eminently capable of breaking from the sheet music and playing it by ear. Why these guys have been denied the baton is an utter mystery. 

So, with the tournament now done and dusted, let's hope Guy Novès has the guts to allow France to be France in Paris on Saturday night. If the fourth round of matches taught us anything it's that there's much to be gained from letting players off the leash. We saw what Scotland achieved after the early injury to Finn Russell forced them to think on their feet, and we saw how the Welsh had England on the rack when they finally – so very belatedly – decided to give 'Warrenball' a break and trust their instincts.  

But mainly we are hoping France turn up and turn it on so that England are denied what would be a very cheap Grand Slam. Championships are not won on the back of just 70 minutes of good rugby, and certainly not with a whole round of matches to spare. But that's exactly what this adolescent England side has managed to do courtesy of some very ordinary opponents. 

Eddie's boys should go on to secure a number of clean sweeps. But please, gods of rugby, for the sake of the great Grand Slam sides of yore, not this year!

Rise of the machine

Plenty has been made of that tackle by Manu Tuilagi on George North during the helter-skelter capstone of the England-Wales game. Was the Welshman forced into touch before getting his pass away? Well, slow-mo footage appears to show that he wasn't. 

Tough, some might say. Like players, officials are liable to make mistakes and we all just have to get on with it. 

Others would argue that crucial moments like this deserve to be referred to the TMO, just at it would have been had North been in the act of scoring a try rather than attempting to create one. 

This correspondent would be inclined to rid the game of all televised replays and hand primacy back to the referee and the eyes in his head. Lord knows we watch too many incidents in slow-mo – from try-or-no-try to 'neck rolls' to fingers trailling across faces – and they always give a somewhat distorted sense of what actually occurred. What's more, back when humans were making the decisions, the benefit of doubt seemed to lie, rather sensibly, with the attacking side – these days it appears to be with the defence.

Then again, there's amusement in playing spot-the-ball or catch-the-toe-in-touch on the giant screens – and if the technology is there, why not use it? There's even been talk of deploying Hawk-Eye to help adjudicate matters of the whitewash. 

Is that something you would welcome? Please share your views below and let's see if we can get a handle on an acceptable balance.

Luck of the Irish

Kudos to London Irish for taking their Aviva Premiership fixture against Saracens to New York. 

The reasoning was sound: rugby is on the up and up in the USA and the city's Irish diaspora is large and passionate. Lay on some rugby at the Red Bull Arena in New Jersey and you wouldn't need to twist many arms. 

But the timing was off. Way off. It might surprise you to hear that the game has been and gone. It was on Saturday. Buried within a stacked fixture list that included the Six Nations, Super Rugby and Sevens. It played out amid little fanfare and garnering few column inches. 

The Six Nations meant an absence of front-line Test players which meant that Alex Goode found himself positioned as the main draw – a fine player, yes, but hardly box office.

The net result was a rather sad affair. And it was fairly obvious that someone, somewhere had vigorously massaged the attendance figure that was handed to the poor stadium announcer.

We're all for spreading the gospel of rugby, but this approach will patently not take America by storm. 

And pity poor London Irish: staring relegation square in the face, they could have done without this hospital pass from the Premiership's schedulers.

Loose Pass is compiled by former Planet Rugby Editor Andy Jackson

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