Loose Pass

Date published: June 21 2016

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This week we will be mostly concerning ourselves with the world turned on its head!

Southern comfort

Please forgive me if the spelling and syntax goes awry over the course of the following lines – I have so much egg on my face I can hardly see the keyboard. 

As you might recall (and as far too many people have recalled), this column took it upon itself to issue a set of predictions ahead of the current Test window. 

Among many other nonsenses, it seems that I pronounced that the Wallabies would expose new-look England as a bunch of gym-frequenting Charlatans. I might have also declared that the Irish would be chewed up by the Boks. I think I mentioned they'd also be spat out.

Yikes. This is awkward. Perhaps Michael Gove is right: experts are best left unconsulted on matters of expertise. [Escaping talk about Brexit this week is futile – Ed.]

And if aligning myself with Michael Gove isn't punishment enough for my many sins, allow me to prostrate myself before you. I deserve a proper kicking. Please do not hold back. 

Yet who could have foreseen the events of the last fortnight? England winning a series below the equator for the first time in history with a game to spare! Ireland coming within a whisker of winning a series below the equator for the first time in history with a game to spare! Wales forcing the mighty All Blacks to dig deep in their own back yard!

Except now, suddenly, it's so easy to see how these heroic performances were forged – they came straight from the heart. 

This column has long rallied against the hardships imposed by Europe's sadistic fixture secretaries, but perhaps we were also wrong about all that.

The longest season in rugby history appears to have produced men that are not only able to push past the limits of human endurance but to actually thrive in the zone beyond. 

Take Chris Robshaw and James Haskell. From whence did they gather those reserves? They began the season as Stuart Lancaster's passengers yet end it on a titanic high. So rabid have they been in Australia that one fears for their reintegration into civilised society. 

Ditto the Irish. That red card handed out to CJ Stander in the first Test could have doubled as a signal for his mates to start planning their long-overdue holidays. But war becomes them. They took it as an invitation to go over the top, and the South Africans couldn't match their fire. 

And that's the simple genius that lies behind this apparent upturn in European fortunes. Eddie Jones spotted it early doors. European rugby can't match Super Rugby for wit, guile, speed or dexterity, but its brutal design does have the propensity to produce the one thing that Super Rugby lacks: utter savages who relish life in the trenches. Once these battle-hardened warriors have you by the throat and off the floor, no amount of fancy footwork will save you.

We're not saying that the rugby world has swivelled on its axis, we're not even forecasting a northern revival. But something is definitely afoot up north – chunky rugby appears on the up and up. For further proof of that, look no further than Saturday's World Rugby U20 Championship Final, where England take on Ireland.

But then again, what do we know?

All cut up

Yes, the pitch at the AAMI Park stadium was a complete disgrace. (As was the decision to hold a Test match at a venue that holds just 30,000 people. What gives? Isn't Melbourne supposed to be one of world's greatest sporting cities?)

That said, we can't help but feel a little anxious about the mounting calls to tear up the Rebels’ base and lay a part-synthetic pitch.

Sure, artificial tracks provide better footing for scrummaging and are therefore much safer. But the on-going demise of grass threatens to nullify one of rugby's most glorious variables: the weather. 

No sport is as earthy as rugby, and yet more and more games are being played on surfaces that produce uniform levels of bounce, moisture and firmness. In a sport where much depends on the bounce of a ball, this all makes logical sense – but it feels so terribly wrong. There's nothing as disconcerting as seeing Saracens troop off Allianz Park without a single blade of grass or one muddied knee between them. I doubt their backs even feel the need to shower. 

There's a growing disconnect between the game played by the elite and the one practised by the rest of us, and synthetic pitches will make this gulf grow wider. That can't be good. 

The elements are part and parcel of the game, period. They can be cruel kingmakers, but they are there to be mastered – just as they are in golf, in motor racing and in sailing. Mother Nature only adds to the spectacle, she does not detract from it.

So, whatever you do, don't get us started on stadium roofs! 

Hooper in the clear

Sticking with that woeful pitch, a video clip of the game has been doing the rounds and it casts Michael Hooper in extremely bad light. An aerial shot of a scrum appears to show the Wallaby flank hurling sand at James Haskell's eyes, the cad! 

Trouble is, he did nothing of the sort. Another shot of the same scrum shows that he simply tossed the clump of turf towards the ground – but most outlets chose to disregard this mitigating angle. 

The Daily Mail chose to do something altogether different: they ran the non-story under the headline 'Video shows Michael Hooper throwing SAND in the faces of his English opponents' – but then actually included the clip that shows he did no such thing! 

And with that, rugby entered the spurious realms of clickbait. A compliment of sorts, perhaps.

Loose Pass was compiled by former Planet Rugby editor Andy Jackson

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