Loose Pass

Date published: August 16 2016

This week we will be mostly concerning ourselves with London Irish, the Rugby Championship and, of course, those flying Fijians!

Island style

Ah! How do we love Fiji? Let us count the ways.

There we were, praying that rugby would put its best foot forward on its return to the Olympic stage, and up stepped Osea Kolinisau and his men to deliver in absolute spades.

Looking back through the maze of heavenly offloads, through the trail of bamboozled opponents, it’s hard to see how we ever doubted that the islanders would fail to honour their heritage. In the end it was so very obviously preordained – written in the stars.

Once the flame in the Maracanã is extinguished and events of Rio come to be reviewed by the historians, Fiji’s first Olympic medal will feature towards the top of the highlights reel. Here was a team of athletes worthy of looking Usain Bolt straight in the eye – yet dexterous to boot.

Set against people falling elegantly into water or shooting arrows at stationary targets, how could the International Olympic Committee now refuse to confirm Sevens as a core sport beyond 2020? It’s a done deal, right?

And as a recruitment drive, rugby could not have asked for anything more beguiling. The watching world was Team GB during that gold-medal match, and Team GB was the watching world: mere kids struck dumb in the presence of the Harlem Globetrotters of grass as they unloaded their vast box of tricks.

Through the medium of rugby, they offered an appreciation of the beauty of sport lost to those who know nothing of sport, like broadcaster Piers Morgan, who openly questioned why rugby types across the home unions “could celebrate being thrashed”.

Indeed, beyond the epic skills, the gold medallists were true to the elements that underpin our sport: their romp to gold was laced with grace, fraternity, humour and humility. Heck, there was even a post-match singalong!

One can only hope that World Rugby sees fit to repay Fiji by upping efforts to ensure that the game remains economically sustainable across the Pacific. Something is seriously amiss when these Olympic and back-to-back World Rugby Sevens Series champions earn a reported maximum of £5,000 per player, per year.

Southern giants

With the Olympic starters now cleared away, it’s time to bring on the main course. Fortuitous scheduling means that those who the flying Fijians have converted to rugby will get to sample the delights of the Rugby Championship, kicking off this weekend in Sydney with a repeat of the 2015 Rugby World Cup final.

It doesn’t really get much tastier than this. New Zealand will be keen to reassert their standing as rightful guardians of the oval ball, while Australia will be looking to exorcise memories of that series whitewash to England.

The smart money is on the All Blacks, of course. They are the reigning world champions and their sides bossed the Super Rugby season.

But Loose Pass believes reports of Australian rugby’s death have been greatly exaggerated.

They are this tournament’s defending champions. They made it to the Rugby World Cup final. They took on England in those largely meaningless Tests without the considerable support of Matt Giteau, Will Genia, Drew Mitchell, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Kane Douglas and Quade Cooper, all of whom now return to the fray.

Those guys will be relishing a bite at a New Zealand side in evident transition. They were largely untroubled by Wales in June, but few could argue that their backbone is as strong as the one on display in England towards the end of last year. If there was ever a time to knock the world champs off their perch, it is now – and the Wallabies will be revelling in that knowledge.

Later on Saturday, South Africa host Argentina in Mbombela. The Pumas have earmarked the encounter as a must-win and they will be keen to pick at the holes – physical and mental – that were opened up by the Irish during their end-of-season tour. As a spectacle, it’s likely to confound the new friends we picked up in Rio. Here’s where artistry gives way to brutality. Enjoy!

London calling

English rugby’s current tryst with common sense appears to be developing into a full-blown affair.

To quote verbatim from the club’s own irony-free press release: “London Irish is exploring options for a return to London.”

A sensible move, you’d have thunk, given that London is home to 8.7 million people but boasts just one major rugby club following the exodus of the Exiles, Wasps and Saracens.

Talks with Brentford Football Club have taken place, and we wish the Exiles every success in their negotiations. Griffin Park is named after the creature that features on the logo of Fuller’s Brewery and is famed for having a pub on each corner.

Could you even imagine a better home for rugby? See you there!

Loose Pass was compiled by former Planet Rugby editor Andy Jackson