Loose Pass

Date published: April 26 2016

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This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with the summit of Europe, the politics of South Africa and the ongoing antics of Joe Marler…

Missing fizz

So there's to be a new name on the European Cup! Who will be the kings of Lyon? Will it be Saracens or Racing? England or France? London or Paris? Farrell or Carter? Can you not wait to find out?

I'm really trying to gee up some enthusiasm, but you've probably already seen right through that. You're probably even thinking the same thing as I am. Let's see … is it 'meh'?

Don't get me wrong: much of the rugby on display this season has been of the top order. A few of the games will live long in the memory, with special mention going to Exeter's encounter with Wasps. 

But something has been missing from this year's tournament. In fact, things haven't been right since it underwent its wonky rebranding.

Under its titular sponsor of old, the rugby really did refresh parts other competitions couldn't reach. Contenders sprang from all points of the compass and gigantic upsets and titanic tussles were there to be had at each stage of proceedings. 

Okay, a true underdog never lifted the Heineken Cup, but the Goliaths of the European game once walked in acute fear of the Davids.

Sadly, this no longer applies. Upsets are few and far between, and some appalling attendance figures point to a dawning realisation that its money that gets you places. We're not saying that the trophy is for sale, of course. Heaven forfend the thought! But having a millionaire backer doesn't appear to hurt.

Don't worry: we not getting all Bernie Sanders on you. We're not even going slightly Jeremy Corbyn. We are not about to put rugby's moneymen up against the wall. Far from it, in fact. The more millionaire backers the better (providing they're in it for the long run and pay at least lip-service to sustainability) – may they buy one Dan Carter for every club on the continent. 

But until they arrive, the competition's best hope lies at the door of the Celts. Here's to hoping they can rise again. We desperately need to be reminded what can be achieved with heart alone. 

Another fine mess

If you've missed it or are just plain confused, allow us to offer you a tiny summary of what's currently going down in South Africa.

Basically, the country's minister of sport has just "revoked SA Rugby's right to host international tournaments for failing to meet agreed transformation targets". That's quite a shot in the foot given that SA Rugby is preparing a bid to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

This two-bit excuse for a column isn't even remotely qualified to query the machinations of national governments, least of all when it comes to South Africa. But we are stupid enough to think we have something worthwhile to add to the transformation debate, so here goes. 

Many moons ago, your trusty correspondent sat down with a young South African who had just been called up to tour Europe with the Boks – a first cap beckoned.

These types of interviews normally write themselves. They guy's so happy, really proud, needs a pinch, bla, bla, bla. A picture with mum and we're done.

But this bloke was not in a good place. He felt he wasn't ready for the step up to Test rugby. He was desperately worried he'd let down his team, his country and his family. He reeled off a list of guys who he believed were ahead of him in the pecking order. He worried about how they were coping with the news of his inclusion.

He was right to worry, of course. It was pretty obvious that he had been pushed to the front of the queue, and it was the colour of his skin that had got him there. 

You can't really fault the selectors' intentions – they thought they'd found their poster boy and that they were doing him a great favour. But their helping hand obliterated his confidence at a stroke. He went on to win just a handful of caps and was never able to fulfil his early promise. 

Yet had he been able to develop in his own good time, he would have made it to the front of queue – and he would have remained there for a long time. As it turns out, he's no longer even with us.

Obviously this guy's story isn't indicative of South African rugby as a whole, but we'd humbly suggest it underlines a point that runs contrary to the very notion of 'transformation targets': some matters simply cannot be forced.

Enough's enough

Loose Pass recently copped some serious flak for suggesting that England should have dispensed of Joe Marler after his wildly miscued attempt at 'banter' during the Six Nations encounter with Wales.

We'd now like to issue the same demand, this time for his wildly miscued attempt at trotting around a player lying on the ground. 

Yes, it was just a petulant tap. But we refuse to be drawn into a debate centred on levels of severity as we were forced to do during the whole 'racism' thing. 

A kick in the head is a kick in the head. If Eddie Jones is serious about been hard on indiscipline, Marler has earned a summer with his feet up… away from prone bodies, away from his own mouth. 

Loose Pass is compiled by former Planet Rugby editor Andy Jackson

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