Loose Pass

Date published: March 14 2017

This week in Loose Pass we will be mostly concerning ourselves with mergers and acquisitions.

Paris match

Q: What do you get when cross rugby with serious financial mismanagement? 

A: Superclubs.

That's the joke reverberating around Paris, but it's not the least bit funny. 

It's too early to assess the full ramifications of the merger between Stade Français and Racing 92, but suffice it to say that lawyers will be rubbing their hands in glee. 

Johan Goosen is another winner – he being the Bok in the midst of a serious contractual dispute with Racing having found his real calling: the cut and thrust of agricultural commerce back in South Africa. (A long story for another time.)

But the lawyers and Johan are partying solo. They are the only winners. 

At the top of long list of losers are the fans. Racing chairman Jacky Lorenzetti and Stade president Thomas Savare appear to have paid them exactly zero heed. They weren't consulted over this. They weren't even warned. 

That's what loyalty gets you. That's your gift for pitching up – week in, week out – for over 135 years. 

And now the supporters are expected to simply run the colours of their local rival up their own flagpoles. They are expected to carry on cheering and supporting and paying their dues. 

But it doesn't quite work like that, and the blithe assessment that the new superclub – Racing Paris? – will be instantly able to count on two full sets of supporters shows not only how little Lorenzetti and Savare have learned during their rugby days, but also betrays the sort of fanciful accountancy that precipitated this mess. 

But perhaps fans shouldn't bleat too long or hard – at least they still have their jobs. 

Let's not pretend this is an "ambitious marriage" (© Jacky Lorenzetti), it's really "the acquisition of Stade Français by Racing" (© Stade lock Paul Gabrillagues). Redundancies will be made. 

Support staff and office workers aren't sexy, so let's focus solely on the plight of the players. There's currently 90 professionals earning a crust across the two clubs. That will need to be cut to 45 by August. We're talking about young men, many with young families in tow. This surely isn't what rugby is about. Our game was designed to be physically brutal, not emotionally so. 

But perhaps we should stop being so whiny. Perhaps we should just prescribe ourselves a teaspoon of cement and harden up to the realities of professional sport. 

Rugby is now just stone-cold business. Clubs are companies, and companies do whatever it takes to isolate themselves from failure. If that means downsizing, selling out, closing factories, laying off workers, well, so be it. The bottom line is now as important as the try line.

Stade ran themselves into the ground. The sums never really added up. France's capital has never been a rugby hotbed, and yet there was a belief that a successful and sustainable rugby business could flourish in the 16th arrondissement. A lurid amusement park was duly constructed, but the bumper crowds failed to materialise. 

So perhaps this acquisition is, indeed, an act in accordance with the spirit of rugby. Racing saw their ancient rivals floundering and reached out a hand. Perhaps that should be commended. It's surely better to save a few jobs than none at all.

Besides, mergers have long been part and parcel of French rugby – the two clubs in question are, themselves, both products of mergers. Fans might yet adapt to the idea of this superclub, and why not? It's a fanciful idea: a provincial Parisian side that is finally able to compete with the giants of southern France on a sustainable basis. 

But yet it all still seems slightly off. 

Staving off the threat of bankruptcy and relegation by merging doesn't really address the central problem at the centre of French professional rugby. Economic sustainability will not be achieved whilst speculative boardroom passes continue to go unpunished. 

Stade should have been allowed to go to the wall. Lessons would have been extracted from the wreckage.

Instead we have the spectacle of Lorenzetti and Savare papering over severe cracks. 

Other sides will surely follow this lead, and who can blame them? The bed of your rival is a far more attractive proposition than ruin. 

But what happens when we have a whole of array of superclubs, all designed to be too big to fail?

What happened after the banking world took the same approach?


And so it ended with a bang and a whimper. England finally turned it on while Scotland simply rolled over. 

In retrospect, it was a fitting end to formal proceedings. Running hot and cold has been the theme across the board, with all teams turning in performances that veered wildly – almost alternatively – between very ordinary and relatively impressive.

Against this, it's hard to know what to make of this year's edition of the Six Nations. 

It will probably go down as the year in which England sauntered off with the spoils, with a match in hand, after turning in just one 80-minute performance. 

So what does this say about England? What does it say about the also-rans?

Let's hope that the final weekend can offer up some solid conclusions. 

Until then, we – like the rest of the media – are forced to tread water by drawing untenable conclusions via the dubious power of comparison. 

Is the current England team a match for the Class of 2003? How do Eddie Jones's boys stack up against the New Zealand side that also went 18 on the trot?

Loose Pass will not be drawn on either. But it is interesting to note how the world was ready to anoint Steve Hansen's All Blacks as history's best side as they closed in on that 19th win. 

So how about this England side and their crack the same record? Erm, not so much. It's save to say that Sunday's papers will be free of similar paeans even if Ireland fail to kick England off the Hillary Step as they did New Zealand. 

England fans have rallied against the muted praise. They should embrace it: it's hard evidence that the best is yet to come. 

If the cap fits

Venting on Twitter is not to be recommended. For a comparable real-world experience, simply ask multiple strangers to spit straight into your face. 

But Loose Pass stands squarely behind those Scots who tapped out their rage at ITV's caption for their captain, Greig Laidlaw, during the broadcaster's coverage of Saturday's Calcutta Cup match. 

It read: “Greig Laidlaw, Lost each of five Tests v England, twice at Twickenham.”

Twitter user Eric Northcote hoisted a screengrab, adding: “Truly pathetic captioning. Greig Laidlaw was a guest. Show some respect.” 

It seemed to hit a chord: his post has been retweeted over 1,300 times. 

We urge ITV to address the imbalance by tweaking their caption for one of their English guest. As suggested by another Twitter user, we'd readily accept: "Sir Clive Woodward, Lost every Lions tour Test as player and coach."   

Loose Pass was compiled by former Planet Rugby editor Andy Jackson