This week we will be mostly concerning ourselves with phantom tries, mystery directives, Sione Lauaki and failing romances.
Have you sobered up from your weekend in front of the rugby yet? Good! This one should send you cross-eyed once more. Yes, we need to talk about Rémi Lamerat’s effort against Scotland. See below. Try or no try?
In real time, it appeared that the France centre had stretched past Scotland’s Huw Jones to dot down on the line – but the ball then bobbles loose.
Quite understandably, match referee Jaco Peyper calls upon his TMO, Peter Fitzgibbon, to check the grounding.
“We’re checking grounding,” he announces.
Instant replays suggested that the Frenchman might have spilled the pill just before grounding it.
But then the slo-motion footage revealed – pretty conclusively – that there was an unbroken line between the turf of the in-goal area, the ball and at least one French finger at the moment of grounding.
Fitzgibbon was now ready to cast judgement: “He’s lost control and the ball has gone forward. Scrum to the defence.”
Then not a flicker of discord on Peyper’s face. A small nod, even! Scotland scrum it was.
Fearing a new directive had passed clear above our heads, Loose Pass reached for the law book. Here’s what we found:
22.1 Grounding the ball
There are two ways a player can ground the ball:
(a) Player touches the ground with the ball. A player grounds the ball by holding the ball and touching the ground with it, in in-goal. ‘Holding’ means holding in the hand or hands, or in the arm or arms. No downward pressure is required.
(b) Player presses down on the ball. A player grounds the ball when it is on the ground in the in-goal and the player presses down on it with a hand or hands, arm or arms, or the front of the player’s body from waist to neck inclusive.
That’s it. Nothing more. This is the entire law on grounding the ball. This is as it stands, today, on World Rugby’s website of laws.
Okay, Lamerat was clearly not ‘holding’ the ball as covered in law 22.1a – but where is the mention of ‘control’? Indeed, law 22.1b law seems to exists solely to ward off any pretensions of ‘control’.
If you can score with your waist or neck or belly or elbow, surely you can score with your fingers. (Just please don’t ask us why fingers aren’t mentioned alongside hands and arms.)
So Lamerat and France were cheated, right?
Wrong. It wasn’t a try – and that’s the official verdict.
This is the bit that made us come over all squiffy-eyed: it is about control, and that’s according to a new directive that directly contradicts the current laws of the game.
And that’s from the mouth of Joël Jutge, the former Test ref and current head of European match officials, who explained away the phantom score to L’Equipe.
Referring to World Rugby’s recent refereeing cabal in South Africa, he said: “We met in Stellenbosch last June and we instructed international referees to take account of the notion of ball control and not just contact between hand and ball
“In the case of Rémi Lamerat, the ball was released, even if there was contact with the little finger.”
This “notion” was news to Loose Pass. We’ve examined every piece of World Rugby correspondence in our inbox and we’ve trawled their entire site, and we still can’t find any mention of this change anywhere, let alone any detail.
But there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation of this, too.
As Jutge explained: “No doubt we have not communicated enough on this subject – this is often a problem of ours – but this directive has been applied since the meeting in Stellenbosch.”
So there you have it! All this from the organisation that has vowed “to make the game as easy to understand as possible for players, coaches, match officials and spectators”.
It seems slightly callous to question personal relationships on Valentine’s Day, but it’s pretty obvious that Eddie and Dylan are no longer sitting in a tree.
Yanking off your main man in the 46th minute of a Test match is not an act of love. Far from it, in fact. And Hartley knows it: his demeanour on Saturday evening was not that of a victorious skipper with 16 consecutive Test wins to his name. He looked utterly beaten.
Jones’s next move will be hugely instructive. Does he stick with his formless skipper or does he opt to finally reward Jamie George for his perennial heroics off the bench?
Here’s where seasoned watchers of Eddie Jones begin to crane their necks, for this is where his famous ego comes into play.
Having backed Hartley through thick and thin, dropping him would be tantamount to admitting he was wrong to appoint him in the first place.
Trouble is, Jones has often been accused of being unable to admit to his own mistakes. Some argue this one fatal flaw was instrumental in the collapse of his relationship with the Wallabies and the Brumbies – to name but two former employers.
Now, for the first time since setting up shop in Twickenham, the Australian is forced to look deep within himself once again.
There’s no question that England has grown under Jones, but has Jones grown under England?
Si monumentum requiris, circumspice
Another week, another passing of a dear friend.
The death of Sione Lauaki, at just 35, leaves another out-sized tear in the fabric of our games.
Given his prodigious talents, it’s rather odd to note that he won ‘only’ 17 caps for New Zealand.
But his impact on the game far outweighs the honours he amassed during his short stint on Earth. His hulking athleticism, his fearsome commitment, his thirst for channel one, and his ability to get past the first defender – see below! – now serve as the benchmark for all aspirant loose forwards.
If you never got the chance to see him Lauaki, just watch Billy Vunipola or CJ Stander or the ‘new’ James Haskell.
He was taken well before his time, but he plays on.
Go well, big fella.
Loose Pass is compiled by former Planet Rugby editor Andy Jackson