Loose Pass

Date published: June 24 2015

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This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with Samoa's struggles, Italy's wait for a final and tortured TMOs.

Sympathy for Samoa

New Zealand deservedly claimed the World Rugby U20 Championship crown with a 21-16 victory over England in Italy last weekend but an element of their success grates a little.

Three players in the New Zealand squad – Henry Stowers, Luteru Laulala and Nathaniel Apa – all appeared for Samoa U20s at last year's championship before switching allegiance this season.

As they celebrated the Baby Blacks' triumph, they will have no doubt spared a thought for their former Samoa team-mates who suffered defeat to Italy in their last game which means they will be relegated to the second tier World Rugby U20 Trophy competition next year with Georgia moving up to replace them. Stowers, Laulala and Apa are by no means the first players to make such a switch, with current All Black Steven Luatua one of those to have trodden a similar path, and they will not be the last.

World Rugby regulations allow players to switch as long as they have not represented that initial country at Test level or played for their Sevens or 'A' side.

The system allows young players, who are eligible for both countries through either nationality, ancestry or residency, to gain experience with Samoa and maybe catch the eye of New Zealand selectors and earn selection for the Baby Blacks.

It is not as unfair as it may first seem with many of these players having been born in New Zealand where they may have caught the eye in a schools system that boasts a wealth of talent and therefore limits opportunities with the national side.

The lure of the All Blacks shirt, and the likely financial reward that comes with selection, remains a powerfully persuasive tool but we know New Zealand are not the only nation to have sourced talent from the likes of Samoa, Tonga and Fiji. However, questions remain as to how the likes of Samoa are to develop as a rugby nation and cement their place among the world's elite if their best talent is tempted elsewhere leaving them to struggle at youth level and beyond.

It is amazing that Samoa and their like have still been able to compete with the best in such a climate.

It is surely time to revisit the regulations and allow players to return to developing rugby nations and represent them once again if what they hoped would be long and fruitful international careers with other countries have stalled or ended after one or a handful of caps.

Forza Italia

It is not only 'Pool of Death' rivals Bath, Leinster, Toulon and Wasps who have reason to feel let down following the European Rugby Champions Cup draw last week.

The confirmation of next season's battle lines overshadowed the announcement that the Grand Stade de Lyon in France will host the final with that honour passing to Murrayfield in Scotland the following year.

It will be the fourth time that France have staged club rugby's showpiece event and the third time that it has been played in Scotland while Italy, one of the key partners for the competition, are yet to play host to the final.

It is understood that the Italian Rugby Federation (FIR) did not bid to stage the latest final with officials perhaps too busy fighting fires on the home front. Whether it is a threatened strike by their leading players or appeasing their PRO12 partners when it comes to their participation fees.

But their continued absence from the list of hosts remains a problem from European rugby chiefs that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.

Italian sides may have struggled to make a significant impression on the competition but that does not excuse their marginalisation when it comes to the final.

The Six Nations has shown that they are more than capable of hosting major events and Italy's sell-out clash against the All Blacks in 2009 illustrated that they are able to successfully market one-off games.

Those facts should ease any commercial concerns and fears that the game may not sell out or catch the imagination of the wider Italian sporting public.

Italian supporters and rugby fans in general would relish the opportunity to experience a final at somewhere like the Stadio Olimpico or the San Siro and it would boost the competition's profile significantly.

It the FIR need a little help to get to that point it is time for their European partners to front up.

Time for more TMO input?

World Rugby announced last week that referees will be clamping down on a number of laws ahead of this year's World Cup with the aim of clearing up some grey areas.

High tackles, the grabbing of players by the neck at mauls, challenges for high balls, crooked feeds at scrum time and obstruction at mauls are all set to come under the microscope but the recent World Rugby Under 20 Championship final highlighted another apparent problem that warrants urgent attention.

New Zealand U20s star Akira Ioane was shown a yellow card at a crucial point in their showdown with England for what was adjudged to be a dangerous no-arms tackle.

The alleged offence was spotted by assistant referee Ben Whitehouse and brought to the attention of referee William Houston who sent the Baby Blacks' number eight to the sin-bin on his colleague's recommendation.

However, replays showed that Ioane did in fact use his arms and that his challenge hardly warranted a penalty, let alone a spell in the bin.

Current regulations governing Television Match Officials only allow them to interrupt proceedings and flag 'significant' foul play to the referee if he has missed the incident in question.

Replays allow for clarification and what is hoped will be the right decision to be made.

But it appears that they are not allowed to initiate dialogue to correct the referee if replays that they have the benefit of show that the decision made by the referee on the field is incorrect.

Instead they must sit in torture in their cosy little booth and watch injustice play out on a multitude of screens.

If they were allowed to interject, then the TMO could have lent a helping hand and saved both Whitehouse's and World Rugby's blushes.

England went agonisingly close to what would have been a pivotal try during Ioane's enforced absence but luckily for those involved in the error they failed to hammer home their advantage.

World Rugby cannot afford for such high-profile fixtures as this – or even the forthcoming Rugby World Cup final – to be blighted or even decided by such easily preventable mistakes.

Loose Pass is compiled by former scrum.com editor Graham Jenkins

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