Loose Pass

Date published: January 9 2018

This week we will be mostly concerning ourselves with how grey became the new gold.

Age shall not weary them

Should Donald Trump ever feel the need to prove that aging hinges aren’t to blame for his loose screws, he’d do well to subpoena a few testimonies from the world of rugby.

Have a rummage in the kitbags of three of the game’s brightest new recruits and you’ll find bus passes – worn, dog-eared bus passes, at that.

Having axed Jim Mallinder, Northampton Saints are pinning their future hopes on 71-year-old Alan Gaffney. Alan Solomons, 67, has been wheeled in to right Worcester’s woes, and Jacques Brunel – a mere stripling who turns 64 this week – is the man tasked with orchestrating France’s renaissance.

What gives? We all know there’s no substitute for experience, but do a team’s little grey cells need to be so grey?

In a word, yes.

Whilst, Brunel is just three weeks older than the man he replaced, the shift from youth to maturity has become extremely pronounced in the English game – and it appears to be working wonders.

Let’s not forget that before Eddie Jones there was Stuart Lancaster. Although far better for England than history will ever concede, he was ultimately undone by his failure to instil maturity between the ears of his players and his inability to couple courage to his convictions.

And before Lancaster there was Martin Johnson. Unwillingly handed the impossible job of managing his former teammates, he could only look away as they began to juggle dwarves and jump from ferries.

And before Johnno, at Quins, there was Dean Richards, whose early adventures in coaching will be forever associated with base immaturity in its crudest and most physical form: a 99p prank purchased from a joke shop in Clapham.

But just take a look at Deano now. With age comes wisdom, and with wisdom comes the ability to pull rugs from under the feet of champions, as his Falcons proved on Sunday.

But there’s an even deeper-seated reasons as to why wrinkles are all the rage. The current crop of players is the first to include absolutely no vestiges of the amateur age. There’s precious few graduates within their ranks, and none – to our knowledge – who have held a job that requires long trousers.

What’s more, they are Millennials to a man. We do not and should not subscribe to stereotypes, but some traits do ring true.

Press your nose to a dressing-room door in Northampton or Gloucester or Leicester or Worcester or Belfast or Swansea or Newport or Toulon (to name but a few) and you’ll pick up a whiff of entitlement, subtle hints of narcissism and perhaps even the faint aroma of can’t-be-arsed.

Constant affirmation and virtual ‘likes’ aren’t getting these kids anywhere quickly. What they need is some old-school paternalism: more sticks, fewer carrots.

Jones (a mature 57) proved as much with England, and we wouldn’t bet against the likes of Gaffney and Solomons from working similar wonders. Old dogs don’t need new tricks.

Last chance saloon

There were strong words in The Sunday Times on the on-going debate as to whether Dylan Hartley is fit to continue as England’s first-choice hooker, let alone captain of the side.

“He is neither a great player nor a great captain,” concluded columnist Stephen Jones. “One day, England will need him to be both, and they will lose.”

Ouch!

In fairness, it’s a point of view that has been expressed in this space on a number of occasions, albeit in less direct terms.

Our own problem isn’t with Hartley. Sure, he has had problems with his discipline, but he’s honest and hard-working and has won the respect of all those who he has captained. Speak to any of them and they will paint you a picture of a consummate leader.

Our problem is that Jamie George is a demonstrably better player. It’s simply not fair that the Saracen seems destined to serve out his international career as understudy to a lesser athlete.

And what worries us is that we’re already on the downslope to Japan. Jones needs to change tack now or never, yet all indications suggest it will be the latter.

The Aussie has few flaws, and that’s only because there’s not much room left for other ills once you factor in his pigheadedness. One senses that he would view a change in captaincy – and at hooker – as an admittance that he was wrong from the off. His brain might buy into the idea but his ego certainly wouldn’t.

We’re giving Hartley three Tests (versus Italy, Wales and Scotland) to prove he’s a great player and great captain. If he fails to excel in that time-frame, it falls to Eddie to prove he’s not just a good coach but a great one.

Loose Pass is compiled by former Planet Rugby editor Andy Jackson


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