Loose Pass

Date published: September 6 2016

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with technology, Gregor Townsend, Stuart Lancaster and Gordon Tietjens…


A belting weekend of Premiership action is behind us; one week down and already we’re reminiscing over 30-point comebacks, relegation candidacies, last-minute dramas and worrying injuries. Long may that all continue.

However, we’re also debating forward passes. Harlequins’ crucial try in their narrow win over Bristol looked well forward, even in the plethora of angles used for review, while both Gloucester and Leicester looked to be on the wrong end of a forward pass during their epic on Friday.

Apparently now the motion of the ball is not just enough, nor the movement of the pass-delivvering players’ hands. Now the arms have to move in a backward manner as well (quite what that has to do with the ball actually going forward or not is about as clear as the Premiership’s investigation procedure for salary cap breaches).

Obviously lots of research has been done and lots of scientific boffins have narrowed the technique down as statistically as possible. Yet the ‘momentum movement’, that one where the ball starts moving backwards as it leaves the hands, but irrevocably picks up momentum from the sprinting player’s forward speed and ends up travelling forward through the air, remains bafflingly elusive for officials to be able to referee to the satisfaction of all.

And it is devilishly hard. Yet here we are, in the age of camera programs which can detect the spin on a cricket ball, or others which can find the precise contact patterns of a tennis ball ricocheting off grass at 140 mph, or still more that can track the movement and turn of driven golf balls at 140 mph to give you an accurate impression of the shot, still more that can measure the distance of a rugby ball from tee to crossbar to the millimetre seconds after it is placed… and we don’t have a software that could simply compare the track of a passed rugby ball with a theoretical horizontal line?

Please forward this column on to any visual and video tech start-ups you might know. It really can’t be that hard to get this one right…

Coaches’ corner

On the opening weekend of British and Irish action, you’d think it might be the players taking up the column inches. But despite the sterling efforts of the likes of Alex Lozowski, Sam Harrison, Jimmy Gopperth, Stuart Hogg et al, the chief talking points appear to be very much up in the coaching boxes in the stands.

Take Gregor Townsend for example. Is Scotland’s promotion of their former fly-half, owner/creator of the Toony Flip and veteran of top level club rugby across five different countries, to the Head Coach position the final piece in a possible Scottish renaissance? Glasgow’s obliteration of champions Connacht would suggest so. A couple of the tries scored were works of art, mesmeric acts of multi-player coordination rare to see on opening days of a season.

Consistent success with Glasgow, the only team to have been in the play-offs every year since the PRO12 officially started in 2012, is a good enough benchmark, but it is absolutely the nature of the Glasgow success that stands out for us. Townsend is developing a track record of bringing players through who are empowered to enjoy their rugby, show off their skills and believe in what they are doing’; particularly that last part has been something noticeably absent from Scotland for yonks.

He lists one of his favourite rugby memories as “the 1999 victory in Paris where we scored five tries in 30 minutes. That will never be done again. Everything just came together and all 15 guys played well at the same time. It happens only once in a generation and it happened that day.” Perhaps Townsend, now a generation further down the line, can make it happen again. Scots should hold their breath.

Over in Ireland, Stuart Lancaster has now finally found a project he deems to be the right challenge, as one of the game’s more pleasant gentlemen brings a process of convalescence from the World Cup humiliation to an end.

Leinster, Lancaster’s new team, are not all that far from the position England were in post World Cup. A good team, with good players, underperforming on a regular basis. It’s difficult to dispel the notion that the challenge he has selected – there were apparently other offers on the table – is one similar to that he would have faced had he continued as England coach, which should serve as heavy motivation.

But he will bring more to the table now. One of the game’s thinkers, he has been using downtime to gather a wealth of experience few other coaches could boast, including cross-pollination inputs from sources as diverse as the Atlanta Falcons NFL team, the English Football Association and British Cycling’s performance programme, widely recognised as the world’s best, on top of looking from the inside at the astonishing range of skills gracing New Zealand’s Mitre 10 Cup. Leinster have made a coup.

Farewell Titch

Sevens rugby waves goodbye to one of its pioneers today, as the news reaches the world that Sir Gordon Tietjens has stepped back after 22 years at the helm of New Zealand’s Sevens team.

If the most recent years have been a little more barren than the initial ones, it’s because the efforts of the other countries involved in the Sevens series to catch up have been so sterling. As he himself acknowledged in his statement: “…we have to acknowledge just how far Sevens rugby has come. It’s become intensely competitive and the Olympics proved just how tough it is to win at this level these days.”

It has come that far. And Tietjens was one of the pioneers who led it through, creating a program light years ahead of the competitions’ when the Sevens series start out.

A place in rugby’s hall of fame and a knighthood are already his, to add to his “…many great memories from what’s been an amazing time with the team.”

Farewell Titch. We will miss you.

Loose Pass compiled by former Planet Rugby Editor Danny Stephens