This week we will be mostly concerning ourselves with resurgent Aussies, the big PRO14 gamble, Willie Duggan and the future of the British & Irish Lions.
Reports of the death of Australian rugby have been greatly exaggerated. Sure, they’ve now racked up a straight 21 defeats on the trot to New Zealand on New Zealand soil, but Saturday’s performance in Dunedin showed there’s life in the old dog yet.
Going 17-nil up within 15 minutes is not to be sniffed at – not against this current crop of All Blacks. And ending adrift of their hosts by such a narrow margin would have stung – had it not followed the thrashing they received in Sydney just seven days earlier.
Indeed, this was a victory of sorts. Despite the parlous state of their domestic game (or at least the administration thereof), Wallaby fans can now console themselves that they have a core of around 10 players who can go toe-to-toe with the world’s best – and that they are all on the right side of 30.
But what’s really exciting is the scope for improvement. Just imagine if set-piece stability and tidy goal-kicking could be allied to the Wallabies’ natural ball-in-hand ability. Just imagine if coach Michael Cheika focused as much energy on those areas as he does on his post-match refereeing clinics.
Even without those improvements, Australia are suddenly in with a shout of finishing second to New Zealand in the standings. Suddenly the Boks have some competition!
A few weeks ago, Loose Pass took gratuitous aim at the new-fangled PRO14 competition. We argued that the unwieldy beast would turn out to be even uglier than the hyper-extended variant of Super Rugby, the sorry collapse of which allowed for its very creation.
Turns out we were on our own. Plenty of you leapt to the format’s defence. Others berated us for our lack of vision. It seems that the injection of South African blood has generated a lot of genuine excitement.
This gave us cause to re-examine our original position. Turns out we’re not easily swayed: it’s still a monstrous carbuncle of a tournament that is doomed to fail.
But in spite of ourselves, we can’t wait to see what the Cheetahs make of Ravenhill this Friday, or how the Southern Kings fare at the home of the reigning champs on Saturday.
We’d square this awkward contradiction with the relentless march of modernity. We put it down to our collective desire for the quick hit over the slow burn, for a burst of entertainment over meaningful, long-term competition.
This is the way that all sport is going, courtesy of the miniscule attention spans of modern life, so we probably have no choice but to embrace it.
And with that we wish all participants nothing but the best, if only because so much rests on this gamble. As one PRO14 inside put it: “It’s not a case of wanting this to succeed, it’s a case of needing it to succeed.”
It was always going to happen, but Loose Pass is still somewhat aghast as to the extend to which the British & Irish Lions furore was allowed to dominate the launch of the new Premiership season.
In what’s traditionally a celebration of all the good things to come, Premiership Rugby boss Mark McCafferty pulled no punches, claiming that the tourists had failed to raise any objection to plans to extend the English season into June from 2020 – a move that would limit 2021’s tour of South Africa to just five weeks.
“The Lions need to recognise they are doing themselves quite a lot of damage if they don’t engage in a more positive way,” said McCafferty.
“It’s very clear what was agreed. Nobody at the moment has approached us or contacted us, so at the moment as far as we’re concerned it’s all part of what was agreed under the auspices of World Rugby.
“They need to contact us and if they deign to speak to us maybe we have got some things to talk about.”
So there you have it: they never called.
For a seasoned businessman, McCafferty’s management style seems, well, highly innovative. Perhaps it’s the secret of his success.
Let’s see if some of that commercial savvy can rub off on us: Loose Pass will spend the next fortnight simply receiving calls rather than placing them. We will then report back with our progress – presumably from a position much further up the greasy pole.
Another week, another legend of our game is ripped from our grasp.
Like Sir Colin Meads, Ireland’s Willie Duggan will go down as one of the towering figures of the amateur age.
His pre-match fags – to “calm the nerves” allegedly – and his fervent dislike of training – “I don’t want to take the edge off my enthusiasm” – are legendary, but they must seem like vast, fathomless anachronisms to young players. What they should be pressed into understanding is the sense of fun in which he approached the game: an invaluable lesson in a week which saw reports of death threats made to international coaches.
Duggan carries that message of enjoyment to the grave. His death notice reads: “Willie would have wanted a party, so, a celebration of his life will take place at his home from 4pm to 8pm on Wednesday, please dress colourfully (not in black).”
Duly noted. Thank you, Willie, for the vibrant hues that you stitched into the fabric of our game.
Loose Pass is compiled by former Planet Rugby editor Andy Jackson