Loose Pass

Date published: July 19 2016

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with Six Nations alterations, Nate Ebner and Super (confusing) Rugby.

If it ain’t broke…

Straw poll: would you welcome wholesale changes to the Six Nations?

It could be just bluster, but it would appear that the Blazers are keen to give the old girl a proper make-over.

According to Welsh Rugby Union chairman Gareth Davies, several issues are “up for grabs” at the forthcoming meeting of the Six Nations Council. They include the introduction of bonus points, the prospect of promotion and relegation, and moving the whole kit and caboodle to April and beyond.

Hmm. Let’s pick these apart, one by one. 

Bonus points? In a word, no. With the added extras, a team could clinch the Grand Slam and not the Six Nations title. Utter madness. The clean sweep must remain the absolute apogee.

Moreover, running in four tries is always easier at home. But the Six Nations harbours an intrinsic home-and-away imbalance: some teams only get two home games whilst others get three. You can’t add extra advantages to this already sizable advantage.

And what of the conditions and seasonal variations? You’d want to draw Italy in Rome on the final weekend when spring has sprung and the track is hard and dry. Running four tries past them in the depth of winter is an entirely different prospect.

And with the Italians to mind, let’s move on to promotion and relegation. Well, it’s a lovely idea. Hard work deserves to be rewarded, and the Georgians are nothing if not dedicated toilers. Conversely, those that can’t stand the heat would be best advised to vacate the kitchen.

And yet would the best interests of the Italian game be served by making them perform on a trapdoor? Would the best interests of rugby in Georgia or Romania be served if they were allowed to sit at the top table once every two or three years? Any financial gains to be had from promotion would be cancelled out by relegation the very next season. (And let’s not kid ourselves. As things stand, none of these contenders would hang around for more than a season.)

Boom and bust plays havoc with the grassroots. You’ve got to know where the next paycheck is coming from and where it is going. But when your entire financial strategy is based on scrambling for one golden ticket, only one group stands to gain. What do the Irish call those guys? Project players, right? That’s really not how to grow the game.

And so on to moving the start of the tournament to April. Well, this one we don’t totally hate. Sure, a long winter without the prospect of international rugby sounds like a plan hatched by a sadist and my wife over a bottle of wine, but springtime conditions should surely produce play that is easier on the eye.

But that’s all the suggestion has going for it.

Yes, we can vaguely see how moving the Six Nations could help with the formation of rugby’s mythical ‘global season’. But we were under the impression that the global season had player welfare at its core. How does shunting a bunch of games down the calendar prevent player burn-out? Everyone will still be playing the same number of games, right?

They say the global season will also banish fixture overlaps and clashes between clubs and countries. So exactly how does playing Six Nations rugby in May help slay those twin terrors?

Answers on a postcard, please. We’re totally lost.

Super confusing

Loose Pass has copped a bit of flak for allegedly ignoring Super Rugby. If we told you it is because we haven’t a clue what’s going on, we’d only be half joking.

Given the myriad peculiarities of the conference system, it was a delight to tune in for the final round of the regular season and actually have a pretty firm grip of who needed what. Even the players looked liberated by this new-found grip of reality! Well, perhaps not the Lions. Within touching distance of a Jo’burg-based route to the final, they sent their second-stringers into action against the Jaguares.

But everywhere else the rugby was simply one step beyond, particularly those two epic New Zealand derbies. Wow!

Alas, the sound of the final whistle forced us to return to the paperwork.

Huh? What’s this? A team which bagged 52 league points has to play away against a team which mustered just 43 points?

Eh? The Brumbies – they of the 43 points – are seeded higher than no less than three teams who earned considerably more league points?

What? The Stormers are ordained as third seeds and earn a home quarter-final having yet to lock horns with a single New Zealand team? The mind boggles! 

Still, at least we are now down to a straight knock-out competition. And with one New Zealand franchise in each quarter-final, we’ll not betting against a swift return to sanity.

As our old mate Freddy Nietzsche put it: out of chaos comes order.

American dream

Sonny Bill Williams isn’t a man easily upstaged. Having won a spot on New Zealand’s Olympic team, the All Black star would have been forgiven had he thought he’d be rugby’s headline act in Rio. After all, Bryana Habana didn’t make it, nor Quade Cooper, not even Jarryd Hayne, the former Australia rugby league star and San Francisco 49ers convert.

But Williams will now need to share the limelight. Please step forward, if you would, Nate Ebner.

Who? Okay, he’s not exactly a household on Planet Rugby. But the 27-year-old American is a Super Bowl champion – ergo a pretty big deal in the States.

It’s unlikely that the inclusion of the New England Patriot will culminate in the successful defence of Team USA’s Olympic rugby crown (It’s true, look it up!), but the thinking is sound.  Ebner’s inclusion will have draw in millions of NFL fans, and it won’t be long before outlets like USA Today feel they no longer need to describe rugby as a game played “on a field the size of a soccer pitch”.

That can only be good for the growth of our game. Pretty ominous for other Test nations, yes, but good for rugby!

Loose Pass was compiled by former Planet Rugby editor Andy Jackson