Loose Pass

Date published: November 22 2016

during the international rugby match between Ireland and the New Zealand All Blacks at Aviva Stadium on November 19, 2016 in Dublin, Ireland.

This week we’ll be mostly concerning ourselves with high hit, low incomes and dislocated body parts.

Funding Fiji

Due to circumstances far beyond our control, Loose Pass was forced to watch England’s encounter with Fiji in the company of an individual unversed in the ways of our sport.

To his credit, our uninitiated friend was keen to get his head around the laws and nodded gamely as we explained the reason behind various stoppages of play.

By the time England collected their ninth and final try, he was smitten. Still a little lost, but smitten nonetheless.

Hallelujah, we thought, we had spread the gospel and saved a soul from soccer.

But then disaster struck. The man of the match was named: Semesa Rokoduguni.

“I don’t get it,” said the heathen. “Why pick a Fijian? They’ve just been thrashed.”

Hmmm.

We should have made our excuses and left, but we mumbled something about how Rokoduguni qualifies for England via residency, having served in the British army – mainly in Germany – since 2007. This new tutorial wasn’t greeted with nodding. It sailed straight over the head of rugby’s newest fan, and we longed to steer the conversation on to something far less complicated, like reasons to reset a scrum.

Jokes aside, there was something rather unsettling about seeing Rokoduguni paraded before the media at Twickenham. We’re not doubting his eligibility for England or his award, but it all seemed rather pointed during a week in which so many tears were shed for Fiji’s plight.

Here was the problem of player drain writ large – and Rokoduguni was just one of ten Fijian-born players who turned out for other counties at the weekend, all made eligible by the three-year residency rule.

Those romantics seeking to protect Fijian rugby from “plunder” are calling for a Suva-based Super Rugby franchise and an extension of the residency rule to five years. Well-intended ideas, of course, but you know what they say about the road to hell.

Firstly, plonking a Super Rugby franchise in Fiji would create a financial blackhole. It’s simply not economically viable. Gate receipts on a 20,000-seater stadium serving a population of just 175,000 would be swallowed by massive travel costs alone. Yes, they’d be TV money, but what would the cut be? A 16th of a yet-again-extended pie?

And even if the Pacific was handed a franchise, what’s to keep the players there? You can’t seize their passports. French and English clubs would still come calling. Money will still talk.

And therein lies the crux of the issue. Speak to any Fijian player and their love of country shines through. But they are also arch-pragmatists. They all have mouths to feed and only a few precious years in which to earn decent money. So what right does World Rugby have to restrict their economic potential by extending eligibility by two years?

The governors of the game would be better advised to explore revenue-sharing options. It beggars belief that hosts keep all profits from matches played within official Test windows.

Under an equitable arrangement, Fiji would have walked away from Twickenham with a cheque for £5m. Instead they left with a “goodwill payment” of £75,000 having approached the RFU for £150,000.

And so it follows that whilst England’s Fijian-born duo – Rokoduguni and Nathan Hughes – each pocketed match fees of £22,000 for their day’s work, their vanquished countrymen made do with £400 each.

Life really doesn’t have to be this unfair, does it?

High time for a change

A couple of seasons ago, a game of rugby wasn’t complete without at least one tip-tackle. Referees would bring proceedings to a clattering stop as gratuitous slow-mo replays were examined, officious eyes scanning for the exact moment in which the head of the tackled player dipped below the horizontal level of the hips. There were yellow cards galore.

Tip-tackles are rarer beasts these days, which can only be a good thing. The fear of the sin-bin has seen them all but coached out of the game, with players instructed to adjust their tackling technique.

Aiming at the waist area is now out for fear of the laws of physics: there’s a chance players might cart-wheel right over one’s shoulder. The new target is somewhere around the sternum: get your hit in there and tackled hips are guaranteed to remain lower than heads.

In other words, players are being coached to go higher, and – how should we put this? – it’s obvious that some teams have better coaches than others.

The risk in going low is that you go too low, springing an accidental tip-tackle – and a yellow card. Equally, the risk of going high is that you go too high, springing a head injury as one’s shoulder rides up and into a face. But where are the yellow cards?

Deprived of the definitive hips-to-head horizon, officials appear to be giving tacklers the benefit of the doubt.

Case in point: the conversation between referee Jaco Peyper and TMO Jon Mason as Ireland’s Robbie Henshaw lay unconscious on the Dublin turf on Saturday.

“Is he trying to wrap or not?” asks Peyper, referring to the arm dangling from Sam Cane’s leading shoulder.

“Yes he is,” concludes Mason, deftly switching from his monitors to clairvoyance mode.

But intentions are utterly irrelevant. It might well have been an accident, but Cane hit Henshaw high. That’s got to be the trigger, surely. If it ends high, it’s high. It should be that simple.

Just as with the eradication of the tip-tackle, rugby’s troublesome new epidemic requires little more than a liberal application of red and yellow cards – and the guts to administer the medicine.

Nails

Kudos to James Horwill: more of a man than we will ever be.

The former Wallabies skipper suffered a compound fracture of his left index finger while on duty for Quins in Leicester on Sunday – and attempted to stay on the field!

But the wayward digit was clearly beyond pitch-side repair, and the big man was transferred to A&E where he continued to accumulate man points for posing for a selfie with his surgeons, but not before taking to Twitter to lament the end of his career as a hand model.

Footage of the incident is included below – but the squeamish among you would be best advised to surf away now!

Loose Pass was compiled by former Planet Rugby editor Andy Jackson

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