This week looks at last goodbyes, June prospects and TMO decisions. Again.
Welcome to Loose Pass, our weekly collection of vigorous ruck clean-outs, trundling mauls and centre crash balls.
This week we will mostly be bulldozing last goodbyes, June prospects and, despite valiant attempts to the contrary, TMO decisions. Again.
If one was an anti-climax, the other more than made up for it. It took just nine minutes for Brian O'Driscoll's farewell appearance to come to an end. Leinster rarely looked like letting the Pro12 Final slip away, but for the neutral the real spectacle had already happened while Glasgow were blustering their way to the early lead, with the RDS standing as one to applaud BOD's departure with a tweaked calf.
Meanwhile in France, Jonny Wilkinson played the same game he has been playing so immaculately since stepping into the breach for Newcastle all those years ago. Behind a pack vastly superior to its opposite, Wilko controlled the game with a steely superiority, landed his goals, dropped a critical goal with his 'wrong' foot and just generally played like someone to the manor born. He, also, was given an extraordinary send-off by the Stade de France crowd. More on that in a moment.
Separated by just four months at birth, the two careers have been almost mirror images. Both have peaked, dipped, reinvented themselves and their games through necessity. Both have been regarded as the most devastating in particular skills – in BOD's case the outside centre outside line, in Jonny's case the defensive fly-half.
Both have nabbed all the domestic honours their respective teams could hope for: Wilkinson got a Premiership with Newcastle and a Heineken Cup with Toulon, while BOD managed the Pro12 with Leinster and the Heineken Cup also.
Internationally, if BOD was not able to manage a World Cup like Jonny, he will make up for it by being the most-capped player of all time. Both are Grand Slammers. Both are Lions. Both will leave the game with not a shred of regret and still regarded as benchmark players by their peers.
Both were ambushed by pitchside interviewers after their final appearances too. BOD masked his disappointment well and gestured to the party going on around him following Leinster's win. “This. This is what it is all about,” he said.
While the applause for BOD's exit was cut short by the fact the game had to go on, Jonny's exit went on and on. It takes someone special to make 80,000 Frenchmen rise and join in for 'God Save The Queen', and he is that someone.
“At some point your time runs out and you don't always get the chance to head out in a good moment,” he said after having no doubt downed a celebratory Sprite in the showers, little knowing how appropriate his words were for his Irish counterpart.
But the aptest moment for Jonny was the only one I saw on Saturday. Immediately after the final whistle of the Top 14 Final he was cornered by a pitchside interviewer who asked him to sum up his feelings on bringing down the curtain on a career that has included winning every single honour going in the game, a dedication to perfection bordering on mental illness at times, a constant diligence to evasion of the evermore intrusive media, and the popular tag of Greatest Ever.
“C'est impossible pour expliquer,” he said, and then my internet stream died. But then there wasn't a lot else to be said.
Cheers to the pair of them.
Not much will be going on this June beyond the usual round of SH-NH bullying. England will not enjoy New Zealand one jot I suspect, with the major benefit being that of character-building. Ireland have a banana-skin in Argentina while France take their knackered troops to Australia – where they'll probably win one match in stunning style and then get annihilated in the other.
Maybe the most interesting tour will be Wales'. South Africa's Super Rugby campaign has been pretty poor. Only the Sharks have won regularly, and that playing some of the dourest rugby imaginable. The other teams have just been mostly poor.
That Heyneke Meyer feels compelled, despite his desire to move generations, to recall so many of the oldest guard and to eschew local players for the likes of Schalk Brits (not that Brits has not been excellent in the Premiership), speaks volumes for South Africa's development at the moment. Meyer insists that skilled players are his top priority, but there don't seem to be many coming through.
Meanwhile, Wales' players might find themselves the freshest of all the tourists. Their domestic teams' performances have also been dreadful, but as a result many of them have had nearly a month off. The Probables' cantering victory over the Possibles on Saturday was indicative of the sprightliness of the Test side.
Form dictates that the Welsh will come a cropper in the Rainbow Nation and there's no reason not to see the Boks as heavy favourites, but there is at least the chance that this will not be a tour where tired tourists take a trouncing.
The TMO problem will not go away soon. This weekend you had examples of key questions not being asked (did Matt Proctor's bat-down against the Blues actually go forward?), unrequested info costing a game-turning try, a title-clinchingtry awarded on probability despite the question being 'try or no try'….
The trial has gone on long enough. It is very much time for the IRB to review, research, consult, and provide a law upon TMO usage, preferably in time for the June Tests.
The current situation…. well, as Saracens' CEO Ed Griffiths puts it: “It's not clear what the TMO says, who says it, when the referee is allowed to ask, when the TMO is allowed to ask. It just looks like a general hotch-potch. If you bring something into the game, it's got to be decisive.”
Make that decision please, o governing body.
Loose Pass compiled by former Planet Rugby Editor Danny Stephens