Loose Pass

Date published: January 16 2018

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with the tests of Eddie Jones’ patience and Australia’s bold new steps…

‘Oh no not again…’

If coaching were an easy job, everybody would do it. There has to be an element of masochism buried within those who seek to coach at the highest level, who seek to satisfy the most impossible of tasks: pleasing everyone. Even winning teams can be winning in the wrong way, according to many fans.

But surely not even the most ardent self-beater would like to be in Eddie Jones’ shoes at the moment. The ping on his phone heralding the arrival of a new email must be akin to a rogue mosquito buzz in the middle of a hot night. The injuries keep on piling up, outnumbered only this weekend by the updates speaking of red cards and suspensions.

Quite what was in the minds of Joe Marler and James Haskell over the past eight days only they will know, but a coach who prizes mental toughness as much as Jones might not even be pondering that any more; rather he might be asking himself: “are they worth it?”

Marler is out for the opening brace of England’s Six Nations games, with Haskell probably set to join him after his agricultural halting of Jamie Roberts’ charge. Both were sent off for fouls that simply didn’t need to be made. Both – Haskell in particular – have been warned time and time again and were already on reprieve. With three weeks to go, both have soiled their reputations once more.

Yet it’s not just the discipline giving Jones a headache. Billy Vunipola is out, once again victim to the injury curse. He joins several others. England’s clubs’ form relative to their Six Nations counterparts continues to be lacking; the most striking example of this was the Scarlets’ trouncing of Bath on Friday night, but it’s also hard to escape the thought that a couple of years ago, Saracens would not have laboured to a draw in Swansea with their European Cup participation on the line.

The principal difference between England and the English clubs’ is that the former is still winning. Otherwise the two are harder to distinguish from each other. The rugby is rarely inspiring – Exeter often excepted. But the dire state of the latter must surely be the clearest sign of present danger as the Six Nations, and New Zealand in November, loom ever larger on the horizon.

There’s little doubt that the major problem is one of burn-out. Most Premiership-sited international players play significantly more club-level rugby than their Celtic counterparts. How this turns into something that can be managed is anybody’s guess, but you can only imagine the unrest within the club boardrooms should Jones try to force through the obvious and common sense solution: stop flogging the players.

English rugby has problems again – few of them Jones’ fault, but he’s likely to need those steely reserves of stubbornness and innovation to help solve them.

#UsToo

Hats off to the Aussies. Rugby, as evidenced by many a hidden vote in a transparent process, is fond of its decidedly old-school systems and hierarchy.

But if the appointment of Raelene Castle as the ARU’s new CEO was considered ground-breaking, the ARU’s new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) was little short of revolutionary.

In a cycle during which the RFU dispensed with irrelevant pleasantries such as continuing to reward handsomely those females who choose to represent the RFU with such pride, the ARU have taken a more liberal economic stance, opting for matching base pay rates for their males and female athletes and installing pregnancy policies for their females as well.

As Ms. Castle identified during the opening stage of her tenure, the “…female market is really hot” currently and women’s rugby is hard to ignore. The skill, fitness, intensity and rugby intelligence of the current female elite are light years ahead of where they were a decade ago. The last women’s World Cup was a pleasure to watch.

In a time when so much cash goes to so few players playing so many games, it’s refreshing to see a national union opening a wider embrace to hard-training elite athletes serving the sport.

Loose Pass compiled by former Planet Rugby Editor Danny Stephens


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