Loose Pass

Date published: December 20 2016

This week we will be mostly concerning ourselves with fallen Saints, Christmas miracles and defective directives. 

Unlucky Jim

'Tis the season to be jolly. Well, unless your name is Jim Mallinder. 

Pity the boss of Northampton. Just one year ago he was in contention for the England job – now he looks in grave danger of losing his own. 

The Saints sit ninth in the Aviva Premiership having secured just four wins from ten outings. 

Their European stats are even more dire. With just one win from four, the former champs look destined to finish bottom of Pool 4. And, having shipped nine tries – nine! – against Leinster, it appears only Zebre can save them from the foot of the points-difference column.

Matters are arguably even worse off the field. The investigation into George North's latest head injury continues, and whilst the findings are unlikely to uncover anything nefarious or bloodgate-ish, the report is not likely to reflect well on Mallinder in terms of management. 

And then along comes the suggestion that European Cup chiefs are set to investigate the club for fielding a weakened team for that 60-13 mauling in Dublin… as if no other team has done anything similar, ever.

And, of course, there's Dylan Hartley, who seems to go all Bruce Banner the moment he pulls on the green of Northampton…  and perhaps the England captain should put in a plea of Hulk-icitis, least it begin to look like he's actively trying to keep his international powder dry.

Hartley has now racked up seven suspensions totalling a staggering 60 weeks. He needed a large strip torn off him each time. It clearly didn't happen, and it was Mallinder's responsibility to administer the honours on all but the first two occasions.

But even at the fifth time of asking, Mallinder was unable to summon up anything stronger than "frustration". Perhaps he went full hair-dryer behind closed doors, but we doubt it. If Mallinder is guilty of anything, it's simply of being too nice. 

He softly-softly approach has worked wonders up until this season. A whole generation of players have bloomed into Test stars under his pastoral gaze. 

Yet somehow now, at full maturity, they look unable – dare we say unwilling? – to pull up their sleeves for parochial causes. 

Harsh? Perhaps a little. But it's become increasing obvious that Mr Nice Guy is no longer able to summon the blood from his charges. Let's face it: even a real second-string side should not have shipped nine tries at the weekend. 

This is modern rugby, of course, so Mallinder will be the only man called to the dock. But his bosses would be well advised to examine some of the tall poppies that have taken root at the Gardens. 

In with the new

Jim Mallinder will not be the only one sobbing over his Christmas turkey – Mathieu Raynal's mulled wine will surely also be diluted with his own tears. 

Handed the whistle in the 74th minute of Connacht's encounter with Wasps after Jérôme Garcès limped off injured, the French official stepped from the touchline to award the Irish side a penalty just as the 80 minutes were up.

Trailing by just five points, Connacht captain John Muldoon asked whether he could kick to the corner and go for a try. The response from Raynal seemed to be an emphatic 'non'. Then Muldoon manoeuvred his hairy mug into Raynal's and muttered something about new directives. Raynal appeared to concur and soon Connacht were celebrating a famous win. 

It seemed a little harsh on Raynal, but credit must go to European officials for admitting to the error within a mere matter of hours. Connacht had no right to go for the lineout; time had elapsed. 

That said, there is, indeed, a new directive that allows lineouts to be taken if a penalty is kicked to touch after no-time is called. Trouble is, those laws don't come into effect until August 1 in the north.

Wasps have every right to feel aggrieved, and one hopes that this human error does not come back to haunt them. But they probably deserved defeat for simply not having anyone with the street-smarts of Muldoon available to add an objection to the on-the-hoof legal deliberations.

As for Raynal, who could possibly blame him? These constant tweaks to the laws are confusing even to rugby's self-styled illuminati – listen to the clip below as Stuart Barnes files away the decision under, yep, "the new directives". 

So if anyone must stand trial for this, it's World Rugby. It needs to ask itself why our sport is constantly up on bricks with mechanics under its bonnet. Is this really the best way to grow the game?

But before they address that big question, here's a smaller one: why, once again, is the southern hemisphere allowed an extra eight months to become acquainted with a new law?

Opportunity knocks

Oh to be 24 again! Oh to be named best player of the Top 14! Oh to loom over our country like a beacon of hope: a candidate-hero capable of leading our national team back to the sunlit uplands of international rugby!

And if Father Christmas did make all our wishes come true, do you know what we'd do? We'd retire from the game. Yeah, we'd jack it all in for the chance to push a mouse around a desk for the rest of our useful existence. 

Well, Christmas came early for rising (former?) Springbok star Johan Goosen, for this is exactly what he's done. He's hung up his boots for good, the lucky duck! He's informed Racing 92 he's heading home to become a, erm, "Commercial Director". 

That's all we know. We haven't even been furnished with a company name.

Given the lack of clarity – and the spirit of festive season – it would be wrong to cast aspersions. Perhaps Goosen really is some sort of titan of industry; perhaps rugby really does bore him to tears. 

Or perhaps it's just about the money. The offer plonked on that nameless South African boardroom table must have been astronomical. It would have to have been given that Goosen will need to stump up around €1m for breaking his contract with Racing, including the estimated €350k bonus he received for the four-year extension he signed ahead of this very season. 

Oh, hold the phone! News just in: under French employment law, a fixed-term contract may be terminated – without penalty – if a permanent contract is offered to the employee by another company. 

Well gosh and darn it, don't some guys have all the luck?!

But this victory isn't just Goosen's – it is a Christmas miracle for the whole of South Africa to enjoy. It's a story of a young, white male, armed only with a high school diploma, handed the opportunity to affix himself on the corporate pole somewhere near the very top. Perhaps the situation over there isn't as bad as some would have us believe. 

So we wish Goosen well in the white-collared world. Or at least until he is, of course, collared by Jake White. 

Going, going, gong

There was not much for rugby fans to cheer at this year's BBC Sport Personality Awards. 

Following a minor hoo-ha about the absence of any England players in the 16-long shortlist, there were rumours that Eddie Jones's boys would bag the Team of the Year gong. But that award went to Leicester City FC, for who would have thunk that a team would actually win something after spending £48.2m on wages over the course of just one season? Amazing! 

But we shouldn't take our anger out on Leicester City. The fact that Chris Froome failed to make the shortlist having become the first man since Miguel Indurain to defend his Tour de France title kinda killed these awards dead in the water. 

So for a far more equitable distribution of brickbats and bouquets, look no further than Planet Rugby's own excessive collection of red velvet ropes

And with that, we wish all our readers a very merry Christmas. 

Loose Pass was complied by former Planet Rugby editor Andy Jackson

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