Loose Pass

Date published: March 22 2016

1022.6666666666666x767__origin__0x0_Ben_Youngs_England_v_France_Six_Nations_2016

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with a look back at the Six Nations and a tiny weigh in on the TMO debate…

It will be remembered for the last two weeks rather than the first three. 

Naturally in England it will be remembered for that outpouring of relief at around 11pm in Saint-Denis, a shrill blast on a whistle which some said signified the end of any influence of the recent disappointments on the current squad. 

For those longer in the tooth it is the end of an excruciating period of frustration for the World's richest rugby union, a period in which the much-maligned Stuart Lancaster, as rightly pointed out by Brian Moore on Saturday, played a crucial role in regenerating from. Eddie Jones added plenty of finesse, but Lancaster had identified the generation that could do the job.

But there are other reasons to remember this Six Nations. It may have been the tournament in which France rediscovered their identity, ironically spearheaded by the individual brilliance one of the foreign legion who had so diluted that identity previously, but ably led by that most dedicated sud-ouest rugby gentlemen: Guy Noves.

A slow start against Italy morphed over the seven weeks into a display that promised much more against England than it delivered (more on the slip against Scotland in a moment). And you got the sense that here, again, were Frenchmen, enjoying playing the jeu beau, understanding what they were there for and fighting for each other. 

It could be the Six Nations where Wales rediscovered their running culture. Bash, bash, burst rugby has proved a recipe for success for Warren Gatland, stretching his resources to the limit with a rugby product that ekes out competitive advantage by doing one thing, but doing that bloody well. 

Yet with enormous failure looming in Twickenham, the running ability so palpable in so many of Wales' finest players was cracked out, nearly snatching victory from the jaws of defeat in ten frenetic minutes. And yes, Italy were crap, but it was harder to criticise them than to admire the speed and dexterity of the Welsh during Saturday's display.

It should be the Six Nations that forces a rethink of allowing Georgia and the like a shot at the top flight. Whatever role injuries played in Italy's fall from grace during the last seven weeks, there's little hiding the overall lack of progress within the Azzurri in the past 16 years – especially relative to the progress made by those in the ENC 1a. 

Where a playoff could fit into the stuffed calendar is anyone's guess, and automatic promotion-relegation is too disruptive while rugby is still a comparative fledgling in many countries, but if we can find a way to reward progress at the expense of standstill, we should.

Maybe it will be the Six Nations in which Scotland re-emerged. As with the Wales-Italy clash, it was easier to praise the victors than the vanquished when France came unstuck at Murrayfield. The Scots have young, talented players in all the right places, but there now seems to be a culture that nurtures rather than dictates and dumbs down. Stuart Hogg has never looked so sprightly – nor have many others.

It is definitely a Six Nations Ireland would wish to forget. The end of the BOD and POC era has become the onset of a lean spell, in which Jonny Sexton is beginning to crumple under the weight of carrying the team. Uncertainty is rife, from the coach's public musing over whether to make it to the 2019 World Cup, down to the stuttery display against England. But hope is springing within the provinces, with Irish teams occupying four of the Pro12's top five spots. Material is there. Ireland are not done yet.

But that leaves us with England. It will, they hope, be the Grand Slam which heralds a post-Woodward culture of believing and aspiring to be the World's best again. They have arguably the world's best coach. They have a good, young squad with many a back-up still to stake a claim. They have resources of which other nations can only dream. They should now be legitimately thinking of glory in Tokyo. June will be an interesting time.

Before we talk about when, we should know our whats

A lot has been said about the TMO. Over-used, or under-used. Time-wasting, or necessary evil to ensure the right decision. The quest for perfection, or sitting back and letting ourselves be subject to inevitable human fallibility. Everyone has an idea.

But for the love of God… Dillyn Leyds' try on Saturday? If that is going to be the net result of all the debate, money spent, appointment protocols and extent of use boundaries, then let's just do away with it and get on with the game.

Actually no. We'd like to state one tiny matter of fact to enter into the debate about the this decision: at no point in the rule book does it state a player has to have control of the ball when he touches down. 

Yes, Leyds dropped the ball, but crucially, his hand reconnected with the ball before it had touched the ground, and the motion of his hand drove the ball into the ground in such a manner as to ensure the hand and ball were both still touching when the ball hit the ground, with the hand applying downward pressure. 

There's no knock-on, because the ball did not touch anything else after Leyds lost control of it, and at the moment the ball touched the ground, it became an in-goal decision regarding the grounding of the ball.

According to the rulebook, a try. Weird, but true. All hail the TMO!

Loose Pass compiled by former Planet Rugby Editor Danny Stephens

COMMENTS