Loose Pass

Date published: September 13 2016

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This week we will be mostly concerning ourselves with the return of amateurism, dyed quiffs and beating the All Blacks.

The Dark Ages

We're at the half-way mark of the Rugby Championship and it's already a done deal. Leading bookmakers have the All Blacks at 1/200 to be crowned champions, and they go into their next game priced at 1/33 to beat their arch-rivals, South Africa. 1/33! South Africa!

And yet there's nothing really that odd about the odds. Many believe we're looking at the genesis of the best New Zealand side ever. And, natch, that means the best rugby side ever.

It's now over 13 months since these guys tasted defeat. Since that day in Sydney they've strung together 14 wins on the bounce, scoring 580 points and conceding just 198. In other words, they are averaging a 41-14 result every time they lace their boots in anger. 

Granted, the current run includes World Cup victims Tonga, Georgia and Namibia. But that doesn't take the shine off the fact that they need just four more wins to lay claim to Test rugby's longest winning streak. (Unless, unlike us, you are gracious enough to include Cyprus, who manage to reel off no less than 24 consecutive wins between 2008 and 2014. Sorry, Cyprus.)

And then there's that epic home record. (New Zealand, not Cyprus.) The All Blacks' last defeat on home soil was against South Africa in Hamilton 2009. The current crop of players can't take too much credit for getting the run started – most were covered in pimples back then – but they've managed to string it out to 43. And counting.

Surely this utter domination can't go on. One shudders to think what harebrained schemes are being concocted by Sanzar to assure TV execs that the Rugby Championship is still a super exciting prospect for cable subscribers. True to form, they'll probably opt to expand the tournament by adding two new teams. Might we suggest North Island and South Island? It parity's best chance. That or bringing Suzie out of retirement. 

But perhaps we don't need the assistance of South African's most famous waitress: Argentina have shown up these ABs as fallible. 

Yes, yes. We know they went down 57-22. Yes, again: we know it was eight tries to one. And yes, these are straws we're clutching at. But we've only got two, so please hear us out. 

First straw: Are these ABs a bit too pretty for their own good? They really didn't like their tidy little rucks being contested. Aaron Smith – rated as the best player in the world by Warren Gatland – grew so miffed with the state of his work-station that he lost all composure, began reffing the game and was subsequently yanked from the field. So the great linchpin has buttons – and they appear relatively easy to press. 

Second straw: Where are the first-up hits? This is not just a criticism of the ABs – there's flailing bodies across the entire Rugby Championship. Send a runner at the fringes of a ruck, and you are almost sure to break the gainline. This didn't use to be the case, did it? Is it down to the modern appetite for ball-playing forwards? Better, surely, to have at least one brickwall in the side… a doorman… a bouncer. Jerome Kaino is a beast, but he's no Jerry Collins.  

So there we have it: an ironable crease in one of their many world-class half-backs and a slight hesitancy when it's played straight up the middle at pace (a glitch which on Saturday yielded a solitary try).

It's not much, but it's all we've got. Add your own stratagems below and let's see if we can't beat these guys together. Ganging up is our only hope.

Rich pickings

Loose Pass took in a tiny bit of rugby history over the weekend as London Irish took on Richmond at the Madejski Stadium. 

The second-round fixture of the Greene King IPA Championship was hardly a classic, but that's not the point. 

Cast your mind back to the mid-1990s and you might remember Richmond pitched high on the wave that washed away the amateur era. It was England's first professional club, complete with a Sugar Daddy who made £1m signings.

But the sums weren't quite right and the grand old club – a founding member of the RFU and Twickenham's first visitors – went to the wall in 1999 and were subsumed, along with London Scottish, by London Irish. 

The amateur club was reformed the following year and began a slow but steady rise from the very bottom of the ladder. And here they were, recently promoted to England's second-tier, meeting the Exiles following their demotion from the Aviva Premiership. 

As the bankers and pen-pushers of Richmond looked horns with a fully professional side boasting internationals of the calibre of Ben Franks, we began to ask poignant questions of the small and sodden crowd.

How could two sides have travelled such vastly different routes to arrive at the same spot? Should they even be sharing the same spot? How far had rugby travelled in the last 20 years? What is the exact relationship between money and sporting success? How can London Irish be only 24 points up?

We didn't find any answers, and we looked in the bottom of a fair few pint glasses. But we can happily report we've found our new favourite team. All power to Richmond's part-timers as they strive to make sustainable rugby a reality. 

Blond ambition

Loose Pass isn't the biggest fan of fancy hair-dos (are you reading this, Elton Jantjies?), so the sight of Leinster's bleached brigade is causing our eminently sensible short-back-and-sides to stand on end.

Thankfully, there's a very good reason behind the club's hideous 'shave or dye' campaign. The players are raising funds for defence coach Kurt McQuilkin, who has had to return home to New Zealand for personal reasons.

Irish internationals like Cian Healy, Mike Ross and Jack McGrath are among those to have gone blond for the cause, and Paul O’Connell is putting a signed print of himself up for auction – the great man's got nothing on top to shave or dye, of course.

It's a wonderful cause with all donations going straight to the McQuilkin family, so if you'd like to get involved, visit the GoGetFunding page. 

Loose Pass was compiled by former Planet Rugby editor Andy Jackson

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