Loose Pass

Date published: January 3 2017

This week we will be mostly concerning ourselves with the fall of Richard Cockerill, contentious cards and Munster’s return to Paris.

Out with the old

Should old acquaintance be forgot? If you were ringing in the new year with Leicester’s directors, the answer would be a resounding ‘yes’.

Few are more acquainted with the Tigers than Richard Cockerill. His sacking punctuates a relationship that spans 25 years and spawned eight league titles and two Heineken Cups.

Admittedly, most of that booty was pilfered during Cockerill’s playing days, but his coaching record is not to be sniffed at: Leicester have never failed to reach the Premiership semi-finals under his command – and a top-four finish to the current season is well within their grasp.

So what gives? Why jettison a man who is Leicester to the core? The keystone of the ‘ABC Club’, no less!

Rumours abound that his hard-nosed approach to man-management had precipitated a “toxic” coaching structure, but we don’t buy it.

The Leicester players clearly needed a rocket following their dire 38-0 defeat to Munster, and its subsequent insertion paid dividends in the shape of a win in the following week’s return leg. This surely indicates that the “bully” still had the dressing room.

But it’s that 38-0 loss that would have figured most prominently in the directors’ deliberations. After all, it was a performance labelled “unacceptable” by Cockers himself.

Whichever way you cut it, Leicester aren’t the force of old. The consistency has gone. They are disjointed in attack and defence and have, too regularly this season, looked bereft of ideas at crucial moments.

Worse, their up-the-jumper-and-kick-at-the-sticks philosophy looks a little lumpen in this age of total rugby.

As much as Loose Pass abhors our game’s new penchant for humiliating, mid-season, playing to the baying crowd, soccer-style sackings, we’d have to agree that it’s high time for a change of tack at Welford Road. The Tigers need an innovator – someone with fresh ideas and a new outlook.

Our money is on Stuart Lancaster. The man’s nearing full redemption over in Dublin. Or, at a vast push, how about a return for Sir Clive Woodward in some sort of advisory role beside Aaron Mauger?

As for Cockerill, it’s hard to imagine him wearing anything but red, white and green. But we do know one side that would benefit enormously from his talent for inserting rockets. Jim Mallinder will be looking on nervously.

Yellow fever

Here’s one for you to mull over.

It’s early and scoreless in Lyon’s Top 14 encounter with Bordeaux at the weekend. Lyon full-back Delon Armitage gathers a loose ball and attempts to break out of defence. He encounters Baptiste Serin and attempts to hand-off the scrum-half.

The game is brought to a halt and the TMO is called upon to rule on the attempted tackle. Replays appear to show contact between Armitage’s forearm and Serin’s face. It is rules “dangerous” and the former England man is sent to the sin-bin.

Now we’re all for the new directives that seek to enshrine the sacrosanctity of the noggins and necks of those that play the game, but where are we heading if you can be punished for attempting to fend off a tackle? Touch rugby? Tag?

Yes, there was contact between forearm and head, but it was surely accidental. Passing your head under the flaying arms of your opponent is part and parcel of the tackle, so there’s always the chance that the two will collide.

How long before players begin to pass off their missed tackles by claiming they’d received a vast knock in the head, as Serin appeared to do? He’s the one who needed 10 minutes of private reflection, not Armitage.

Perhaps we need to a new law to nip this all in the bud. How about five minutes in the bin for accidental contact with the head? Or surely the simple penalty is punishment enough?

Over to you. Your thoughts, please!

God’s own game

From the ridiculous to the sublime.

Munster return to Paris this weekend for their rescheduled Champions Cup match against Racing 92. It will be a harrowing journey for the province as it was in the French capital, on the morning of the original fixture, that head coach and club legend Anthony Foley was found dead in his hotel room.

But in an act of sheer class, Racing’s fans have sought to ease some of the pain by throwing opening their doors to their travelling counterparts.

The offer of a bed is designed to offset the cost to those making the return trip to Paris, but the gesture goes far beyond that: it reminds of us of the majesty that lies at the centre of our game.

May this superb act of goodwill guide us all through the new year – and beyond.

Loose Pass was compiled by former Planet Rugby editor Andy Jackson


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