Loose Pass

Date published: December 3 2014

Welcome to Loose Pass, our weekly collection of cocktail paprikas, tingly jalapenos and ‘pass the milk please’ bird’s eye chilis.

Welcome to Loose Pass, our weekly collection of cocktail paprikas, tingly jalapenos and ‘pass the milk please’ bird’s eye chilis.

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with double standards, Samoa’s problems and the most burning questions left from November…

Not that it really behooves a high-profile player to get arrested and not that we don’t agree that probably some form of admonishment was mandatory, but was the public disciplinary haranguing of David Pocock by the ARU either just or necessary?

Pocock was bailed to a January court appearance on Sunday for his part in a protest: namely chaining himself to one of the giant diggers poised to tear down a decent chunk of state forest in New South Wales.

Trespass is one of the charges he faces. Maybe he will get a fine, but you get the feeling that he may end up with a slap on the wrist or a good behaviour bond. It was not, apparently, a violent or disturbing protest.

To sum it up: an international rugby player, with an impeccable record and character, was engaging off-season time in a peaceful – if mildly unlawful – exercise of democratic right to voice. In his own words: “It is part of being a human being and taking on the challenges we face as a society.”

Yet this was the nature of the – and we emphasize, formal and written – warning issued by the ARU: “…we’ve made it clear that we expect his priority to be ensuring he can fulfil his role as a high-performance athlete.”

Precisely what about Pocock’s actions is not doing this? Should he be in the gym 24/7? Should he not have a cause outside of rugby to pursue? Barring a highly unlikely Tiananmen Square-style charge of the bulldozers, was he in any physical danger? Was he engaging in Ferguson-style civil unrest and risking police retaliation?

Is there anything in what Pocock did that is disparaging to other human beings, glorifying the abuse of alcohol, engaging in wanton public acts of violence, even setting a bad example in his position as a role model?

Not a scrap. Yet he receives a formal written warning and all sorts of press from the ARU about standards and the need to maintain them. Now compare Pocock’s actions to those of Kurtley Beale, who has driven someone to depression with some revolting text messages, been caught out on the tiles several times, publicly disturbed the peace several times yet Beale gets an uncomfortable fine and a suspension that counted only during the time of his disciplinary hearing.

All we can conclude from this is that the ARU has decided to tighten up on discipline – and as a result, has lost any semblance of balance it might have hitherto had. Australian rugby on the pitch is hardly in fantastic shape, but they are still among the world’s elite. The ARU has long since been far, far away from being that.

Of course, there is only so far they could sink… take Samoa for example. I’ve left off talking too much about the Samoans’ plight up to now as I was hoping that World Rugby’s intervention might end up clarifying the issues on both sides.

Clearly this it has not done, but it’s tough not to side with the players, who displayed plenty of mettle during November, when faced with a Union Chairman who describes his national team players as “little children”, guilty of “foolish thinking”.

Anyway, having failed to turn up for mediation meetings because they had “confused the dates”, a lamentable excuse for a governing body, Chairman and Samoan Prime Minister (you could write theses about the agency theory inherent in that double mantle) Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi now has this little gem of wisdom for his team: “Their duty is to play and win. If they win, win, win, it makes it a lot easier for us to find sponsors to help us.”

Unhappy teams rarely win, especially those who are unhappy not only with their management, but also because they feel their voices are not being heard. But can you imagine any modern day national governing body uttering such tripe about the duty of the national team and its players? Even Mourad Boujellal might not go as far as to describe winning as a ‘duty’.

The more Mr. Malielegaoi speaks in public, the more shambolic and detached from rugby reality he appears to be. The players and coaches have been open about what they would like, as flexible as conscious professional sportsmen can be about when they would like it, and they have received zero from their union. It is a terrible mess, and it will be a terrible waste of a hugely talented rugby team if the Samoan players end up giving up their quest for improvement.

November’s remaining questions:

Who is now England’s fly-half?
Can Wales beat a full-strength SH team?
Ireland for the Grand Slam?
Scotland to score more tries in the first game of the Six Nations than in the last campaign?
How many nationalities in France’s World Cup squad?
Quo vadis Italy now?
Have New Zealand lost their strength in depth in the light of the Scotland game?
Why can Australia still not scrum?
Can Heyneke Meyer win back the fans?
How long until the USA wakes up for real?
Will Samoa fix their problems in time for England 2015?

Quote of the week? Mourad Boujellal of course. On being tweet-challenged by Sharks CEO John Smit to a game against the Sharks, Boujellal replied: “I’ve seen Jaws 1, 2 and 3 and sharks don’t scare me. If they want to play against champions, it’s wherever and whenever they want.”

Indeed, and it would probably be a cracking game. Of course, it does seem to miss the point about the game we all secretly really might want to see as an annual fixture one day: the full-strength head-to-head between the European Champions and the Super Rugby Champions. Smit might also now be aware of this after Drew Mitchell also responded to Smit’s challenge by tweeting: “Thanks, but I think we are in talks with the actual winners…”

Fair enough. European Champions v Super Rugby Champions does have a certain ring to it. European Champions v One of Super Rugby’s Conference winners doesn’t quite have the same resonance…

Toulon v Sharks in banter: Toulon now a converted try ahead.

Loose Pass compiled by former Planet Rugby Editor Danny Stephens