Loose Pass

Date published: March 21 2017

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with the next summit meeting, the 100 minutes' war and the musical chairs at Leicester…

It's on!

It's not going to be until November 2018 at the earliest, but finally an England v New Zealand clash looks on before the next World Cup and the war of words has already started among the senior scribes.

Stephen Jones kicked it all off last week after England trounced Scotland with some finely-chosen gloating. It stayed on the classy side of snide, but there was no hiding the sneak-up-behind-him-and-poke-him-in-the-ribs intent of the following phrase when predicting an England win in Dublin on Saturday: "…New Zealand, poor dears, will be expunged from the record books."

In the event of course, they were not. It took little time for the Kiwis to respond in kind either. Chris Rattue, whose trolling is somewhat less refined than Mr. Jones' much of the time, used the 'poor dears' epithet in his opening line and went on to add 'clunky', 'limited' and 'over-rated' in his intro – all backing up the peculiar heading of 'milky white'.

The pick of the insults was definitely about half-way in, where he labelled the muscular English "like overstuffed plastic shopping bags in desperate need of a trolley."

Spiro Zavos was less picky, with an all-out assault in the sixth line of his column in The Roar.

"England played in their traditionally thuggish, arrogant, brain-dead, nasty manner," he started, and it went downhill from there, including history, culture, committee uniforms and… you get the gist. Assuming that England do maintain their current World Rugby ranking – no given according to most down under – that November Test will be talked to death long before it actually happens.

But points scored for now? A handsome win to the Kiwis. England did not show any of the guile they showed against Scotland and however excellent Ireland were, England choked, and choked hard all over the park.

It's central to Eddie Jones' philosophy for his players to be able to think around problems and make sense of the chaos that is a game of rugby.

Ireland's sheer speed and physicality turned the game into chaos at most times on Saturday and England just had no idea how to think around it. Not for the first time, the men in white were found wanting cerebrally.

Which is, of course, what still marks the difference between England and the All Blacks. England's run of victories has been founded on the innate competitive instincts of players like James Haskell, Dylan Hartley and Courtney Lawes; players who just do not lie down and compete to the end.

It's the competitive spirit that carried England so far. But New Zealand's run was founded upon an ability to do what Jones would have England do: make sense of the chaos and adapt. Where England often won by shouting louder from the script, New Zealand would re-write it.

Guardian journalist Andy Bull took no sides in his own column, he just cited stats. England scored fewer points per match, and fewer tries, playing fewer games against the top four teams in the world and more games at home.

“Add it all up, and you arrive at the answer most people have come to without doing the work. New Zealand’s run was even better than England’s has been,” he said.

Shots fired – let the war of words simmer. And roll on next November!

When all around are losing theirs…

There is unlikely to be peace breaking out between France and Wales soon either after the remarkable finish to Saturday's proceedings at the Stade de France.

Yet emerging from it with reputation absolutely intact is Wayne Barnes. He saw the offences, blew them, explained himself well and kept himself together superbly.

You can argue he ought to have awarded a penalty try, but even that seems shaky, given the varied nature of the offences Wales were committing.

You can argue he ought to have been more suspicious of Uini Atonio's injury, but the finger of blame needs – as Rob Howley pointed out – to be gesturing to the sideline there.

You can, as is often the case in rugby, argue for any number of things, but not once in the 20 minutes of added time did you get the impression that he wanted anything other than a rugby end to the game with foundation in law. Hats off!

Mauger mistake?

It's strange timing, as events throughout the weekend would have provided a handy smokescreen, so we're assuming that Aaron Mauger's departure from Leicester was not one the club particularly wanted to hide.

Several weeks ago, this column opined that Leicester was a club in danger of having the foundations of its identity cleared out with the departure of Richard Cockerill, who was seemingly found to be the lesser of the two coaches locking horns in the strategy room.

Results have not improved noticeably, and now Mauger is gone, leaving it hard to escape the impression that he wanted top job, was given a short chance to make it his, did not create the requisite harmony despite having free reign, and was not prepared to hang around as back-up once Leicester had decided they needed 'someone with Premiership experience' instead.

Matt O'Connor is no Leicester stalwart as Cockerill was, but is enough a part of the furniture as a result of his former spell in charge that this will not be a problem. He has a deserved reputation for creating breathless attacking teams and looks a good bet to gel the Tigers together again.

For a while Leicester was a club drifting with an identity crisis. Bringing back O'Connor feels like a very positive move to address that crisis.

Loose Pass compiled by former Planet Rugby Editor Danny Stephens

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