Loose Pass

Date published: July 26 2016

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This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with wealth, obstruction, confusion and a lack of numbers…

An outbreak of common sense

That England's union and club representative body have reached an agreement without even an eyebrow seemingly raised in anger is something in itself given the history. But the scale of the common sense and practical benefit within the agreement's lines is something that should have all the other unions very, very afraid.

Put in a nutshell, it means Eddie Jones can pick his players on form, because he doesn't need to name a squad until October. It also means that the clubs have a sound financial base with which to produce home-grown, well-trained athletes. They no longer need to fear having internationals in the team either, for they will be well-compensated for the trouble. If burnout and too much rugby has not been specifically addressed, the mandatory weeks off for passing a threshold of accumulated minutes by November and March do at least suggest that work is going on to be better at player management.

That very much backs up the five-year funding deal between the RFU, Rugby Players Association and PRL signed off last season which sees a minimum of £7m injected into the RPA welfare, personal development and education programmes to support 650 current and over 350 former RPA members.

All in all, the deal means England's professional clubs are getting twice as much cash as they did under the last eight-year agreement. It's structured, everybody's happy, it's created Europe's most competitive league and a national team that has just backed up a Grand Slam by whitewashing the Wallabies in their own backyard.

If you're English: pinch yourself. You have rich, happy clubs, churning out well-educated and skilful players, a vibrant league, a storming national team and harmony among the suits. This has the makings of a dynasty era – perhaps the one that got away thirteen years ago.

Meanwhile, in Wales…

Granted there was potential for conflict and you don't want to take risks. But there's a nagging sense the WRU has missed a trick in not letting Shaun Edwards head off to Toulon for a spot of consultancy.

You'd be forgiven for wondering if Edwards was embellishing the truth a smidgeon in his public plea this week – asserting that 'Toulon have never practiced defence' – but his thoughts around going there to work with players of the calibre of Bryan Habana (the one he named, but there's Ma'a Nonu, Juan Smith, Matt Giteau etc.) and soaking up the experience they would have brought were spot on.

Edwards has been involved in rugby for perhaps 40 years, most of them rugby league. The four players named above have a combined 120 years of union experience, 40 at the top level, all in places and leagues Edwards has yet to experience practically. He is a fine coach with a lot to offer, but he doesn't know everything – indeed there's many an anecdote of how it is his burning intention to learn everything. That's not an ambition you should dumb down if you can help it.

“I felt it would have been a vehicle to develop myself as a coach because you’re always learning and bring the findings back. I do think I and Wales would have benefited from it,” said Edwards.

Given that Wales have been shipping scores at the rate of roughly five a game in their last four matches against two of the world's best teams, exposing their defence coach to some new ideas would surely be worth a try wouldn't it? Yes, pun intended. No, I am not sorry.

Do something

"I think it's a big factor you know, I said during the week. Not facing New Zealand opposition this year does have an effect and we spoke about the intensity and the tempo at which these guys play at," said Robbie Fleck when quizzed about the lack of game-time for the Stormers against New Zealand teams.

"You would like to test yourself against these guys the entire season, we didn't get a taste of it and now we have. Now we know what it's like and we have to up our game for next year."

The frustration evident in Fleck's opinions of the league schedule is shared by many. This conference system has not been a success. It has flawed the league integrity that is so important to a competition, confused the fans to the point of boredom and occasionally rewarded mediocrity; although few will deny that the best four teams are in the semi-finals, were the best eight teams really in the quarter-finals?

The Kings has been a miserable failed experiment and Australia's teams are feeling a big pinch – talking about the Force is almost taboo in Perth at the moment.

The league looks over-stretched, over-complicated and under-watched: the glaring empty spaces on the terraces this weekend were not just weather-related. It will surely yield a fine final, the rugby has been superb. But the feeling persists: those two have happened in spite of the format, not because of it.

Loose Pass compiled by former Planet Rugby Editor Danny Stephens

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