Loose Pass

Date published: September 20 2016

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This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with various bits and bobs, on a somewhat ordinary weekend…

I'll confess, it was difficult to pick an agenda this week.

Do I talk about how rugby matches would never have been abandoned for a bit of rain in the good old days? Do I prematurely pen the final chapter on a flawed English talent whose disciplinary woes may render his international career finally over?

Maybe I should simply either find some colourful words to re-touch old works on the decline of South Africa, or the continued excellence of New Zealand, or Argentina's pluck.

Perhaps there should be a sympathetic tone on the difficulties of surviving the first season up in the Premiership. Or even a critical one, insisting that this season's new boys have the resources and the long-term planning that others before them did not, so why are they not doing better?

Potential exists for me to criticise other journalists, for trying to make Owen Franks' inability to score for the All Blacks in 84 Tests some form of story. There's certainly scope for a bit of Toulon-bashing as well, after their expensive squad's dire start to the season.

But these are all well-trodden paths. A new path, if through familiar surroundings, would be to heap deserved praise at the feet of Dane Coles. As so many of this recent decade of All Blacks has done, Coles has not only become master of his peers at the basics of the hooker position, he is on the verge of re-defining the role.

Blessed with exceptional speed, Coles had a try assist in half his team's six tries on Saturday. The full array of handling skills was on show: quick hands to Israel Dagg, a long accurate pass over 12m to Sam Whitelock, an offload from contact to Julian Savea. While the fleet-footed hooker is becoming something of a norm, the dexterity and awareness is very much unique.

A long-term project who has had to overcome issues with aggression in the past, Coles is another top-notch product of the All Black machine.

OK, so one down…. where else to look for inspiration? Saracens? "Service as normal over in Barnet, sir. Nothing to report." I could have a gander over in Coventry too, where Wasps are swiflty laying to rest the ghosts of the season past. But there again, this is also a tale of a team finally paying to its potential rather than slightly under it.

There'll be more to write on October 9, when England's two best club teams face off on the knee-skinning materials of Allianz Park – notionally on both Saracens and Wasps.

Not much extraordinary happening in England then. In Wales there seems to be something of a revival after last season's disappointments, with the Ospreys and Cardiff both off to flying starts in the PRO12. Time, and the disruptive rigours caused by the Champions Cup and international seasons, will tell.

Ah yes, the seasons. Plenty to write about, nothing that hasn't been written before. I would simply need to direct you to my colleague Andy Jackson's recently, quite succinctly pointing out that whatever premise the potential merging of the seasons is being based on, it is not the one it ought to be based on: player welfare.

In France, and excepting Montpellier who excited nobody when winning seven penalties to three in Bayone, all the home teams won and nuts to the formbooks.

In South Africa the Kings continue to be an embarrassment, while the big five unions continue to enjoy near-total hegemony over all the others in the Currie Cup. Still, given their travails in Super Rugby, it is at least refreshing to see the Cheetahs topping the log.

Never mind, though, all the Springboks will return just in time to ensure their good season is negated in the play-offs. And on the subject of Super Rugby: Thursday fixtures? Really?

So, no. I am sorry to say I could find very little of substance and originality to write about after what was a remarkably routine weekend of rugby around the world. Right now, we are all holding our breath as Chris Ashton walks into the dock…

Loose Pass compiled by former Planet Rugby Editor Danny Stephens.

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