Loose Pass

Date published: November 26 2014

This week we deal with precedents, a quick question to the governing body, a scheduling anomaly and some second row turnover…

Welcome to Loose Pass, our weekly collection of torn shirts, faded shorts and over-starched socks. This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with several precedents, a quick question to the governing body, a look at a scheduling anomaly and some second row turnover…

Ireland. Dark horses for the next World Cup right? Well, yes, if form, ranking, experience within the squad, talent, tactical nous and obvious mental improvement are anything to go by.

The Oirish have been the story of November. They didn’t just beat the Boks, they bullied them. That’s impressive to start with. Georgia were dispatched with relative ease, including a healthy dose of patience and belligerence. Australia were pipped in a magnificent game of rugby, perhaps the best of the year to date.

Three out of three for November, two of the southern hemisphere giants toppled, the squad looking both settled and surprisingly deep – let’s not forget how many of Ireland’s hitherto-considered first team players were missing this November. That has to be a recipe for success next year right? I mean, even the All Blacks have been a few seconds away from defeat against Ireland over the past twelve months.

The problem is not that Ireland do not have the resources to do a number in England next year however, the problem is that we’ve been here before with Ireland. Reel back the years to 2006 and Ireland were on a similar, perhaps even more intense high. Both South Africa and Australia were sent packing, Australia without even crossing the whitewash.

The next Six Nations was lost to a moment of Vincent Clerc inspiration at Croke Park, otherwise Ireland would surely have had a deserved Grand Slam. Ahead of the World Cup in 2007, Ireland were dark horses.

Three weeks into that World Cup Ireland were a goal-line stand away from defeat to Georgia in one of the best matches of France 2007. Two weeks later, Argentina humiliated the Irish in Paris and sent them tumbling out before the quarter-finals. If the fall from grace in 2011 was less spectacular – a brief high against Australia dashed to pieces by the excellent Welsh, it was not dissimilar.

The point here is that Ireland are not dark horses. They have been outside contenders for some time now, certainly a team people would readily back to make semi-finals, certainly a team capable of beating any on their day. They remain that. But the older heads of the team now have the most important task – making sure history does not repeat itself.

Among other things, is it true that the re-branding of the game’s governing body means we now have a tournament called the World Rugby Rugby World Cup?

Chairman Bernard Lapasset, back in late August, said that the re-branding was a ‘mission statement’ by the governing body, a reaction to the game’s expansion and accession to Olympic status, a commitment “… to furthering that growth beyond our traditional family and fan base with a public that expects to be entertained, informed and interacted with.”

Alright. Great. World Rugby does perhaps sound more dynamic than the IRB. And goodness knows there’s been some sterling work done over the past few years in making sure tier two moves closer to tier one so it is not as if the governing body is sitting around.

Yet this does seem to be a bit of an expensive exercise to do something that few people I have spoken to really cared about all that much? The change appears to have been met with a huge amount of indifference. Was such a wholesale change really the way to react? Was the old identity really one that needed to be shed?

A little further down the line, I am getting mighty excited at the third and fourth round of the European Cup. The back-to-back clashes between Munster and Clermont for one, Leicester and Toulon for another, while given Scotland’s resurgence, Glasgow against Toulouse ought to be fun as well.

But the folly of both England and Wales sticking in a fourth international to the November window might well be reflected in the playing staff those clubs who receive a number of players with seven shades knocked out of them that week. You can bet your bottom dollar that few of the Irish internationals will be in ProD12 action the week prior, likewise – although probably to a lesser extent – the Scots.
Domestic leagues are one thing, but this seems a clear disadvantage to English and Welsh teams foisted upon them by the unions.

In the week Bakkies Botha called it quits on the international scene, it seemed appropriate that Brodie Retallick was named the IRB – sorry, World Rugby’s – Player of the Year.

It is as though one generation gave way to another: Botha the uncompromising enforcer making way to a new breed of colossus blessed not only with Botha’s power and set-piece ability but also with the hands and speed of a back. Retallick had to win, no player has had as consistent an impact on the definition of his position this year.

Botha will not be forgotten by the rugby fraternity in a hurry. The enforcer role was one he defined on the pitch, off it he supposedly did little more than train and look after his family. His admission that he just couldn’t find it within himself to push through to the next World Cup was one that some others ought to have made in the past but didn’t, and is one that adds to Botha’s credit.

Whatever unpalatable tastes he occasionally left with others on the pitch, he is universally liked off it. And now he is no longer on the opposition’s team (for those non-South Africans), he’ll probably have more fans and admirers than ever before. Enjoy retirement.

Loose Pass compiled by former Planet Rugby Editor Danny Stephens