This week we will grind the bone-marrow out of the West Country Derby, control issues and some good form from an unexpected source.
Welcome to Loose Pass, our weekly gathering of guttural growlings, saliva-laden snarlings and bite-beating barks. This week we will mostly be grinding the bone-marrow out of the West Country Derby, control issues and some good form from an unexpected source.
Red cards make a good source of cultured debate around here these days, but there's not much discussion mileage to be had out of the anarchy that was Bath's one-point win over Gloucester last weekend.
One thing is worth iterating though, it was not Tim Wigglesworth's fault. Each decision he made pertaining to yellow cards was, while being on the harsh end of the scale, justified both in fact and law. The reds could not have been anything else – Tavis Knoyle's card was a deep, satanic crimson.
The referee is not there to control outcomes, he is there to apply the law. In the heat of a West Country Derby both teams, chock-full of locally-ingrained lads desperate not to lose rather than win, contrived to kill the ball at every opportunity, aim for punches rather than tackles, and just generally take the evolution of the game back about 40 years.
Wigglesworth got one case of identity wrong but none of the important decisions – out of all the people on the pitch, he was about the only one who accurately acted according to what was unfolding in front of him without either whingeing about it or resorting to frustrated violence when it did not go his way. It's not his fault he resorted to playground discipline in order to control a bunch of snarly, bitchy schoolgirls.
Why all this ranting? Well, Saturday, while being the sort of feisty game that still stirs the guts and gets the teeth grinding with excitement, was not a good day for the game's public image, and while the RFU have been all well and good in charging in with promises of swift disciplinary action and further official reviews, people are still talking about the fights.
It would be really, really good for our game – and a lot of other games – if someone from the RFU were to come out and shout rather loudly: “Hey, remember what you want about Saturday, our referee got it spot on!”
So you're a coach, right? First line on the job description: pick your best available team every week to win rugby matches.
Except of course, if you happen to be coaching Super Rugby in Australia, where the first line of the job description now appears to be: pick the best team we leave you and good luck mate.
That was the mantra from the Waratahs on Saturday – and anybody who had Israel Folau on their fantasy team – after the superstar full-back was pulled at the last minute before the 'Tahs' game against the Force.
But do some research and it does appear as if Folau's injury – a fractured cricoid – could be one of those that leaves you in absolutely no pain at all, yet also in mortal danger.
Cricoid? Well, leaving aside the explanation offered to me that Folau had broken one of his new super-duper bats on stick cricket and was possibly prone to deep depression, it does appear that it is a quite important part of the throat. It is the only complete ring of cartilage around the trachea (the others are a sort of bog-seat C-shape) and it serves as a sort of central attachment piece for all the ligaments and muscles involved in opening and closing the airways and in speech production. A further blow, or indeed a mere dislodgement of the broken part, holds the potential to suddenly cut off Folau's air supply.
So consider this: Folau is, in fact employed by the ARU – effectively he is seconded to the Waratahs. The ARU thus have the right to look after their asset as they see fit. Would you send your prize asset into a situation with the heightened potential for life-threatening injury? Even as a coach, would you do that?
Leaving aside the affront that Michael Cheika and every other fantasy coach who had picked Folau felt on Saturday, the ARU got their decision spot on – what might need addressing is the communication processes, however. Speaking as a coach myself, if someone forbade me playing my star player on the eve of a big derby without explicit good reason… crikey moses.
Sticking in Australia for a moment: am I the only one to notice that this has the makings of Australia's year in Super Rugby? As long as someone can stay awake enough to beat the Sharks (if they win anything this year all the law changes and reviews aimed at cancelling out negative rugby will have been in vain), three of the likely glory contenders all seem to be hailing out of Australia.
Where has it suddenly gone right? A year ago, Aussie rugby was in the doldrums. While Australia had indeed managed a Super Rugby finalist team, even that was coached by a South African. The rest were write-offs, the Reds falling fast from grace and the others being regularly beaten in front of sparse crowds. The national side had just become the first host side to go down to the B&I Lions since South Africa in 1997. Players were on the razzle, finances on the slide etc. It was a dog show.
Somewhere it has turned around. This year seems to be the year that the promise of some teams is finally being fulfilled – the Force epitomising that. Meanwhile, the country's fraternity is – according to the meagre few I have spoken to – quietly immensely excited at the prospect of a sub-Super regional rugby tournament concurrent with the Rugby Championship, a la Currie Cup or NPC (in whatever guise it is these days).
Player numbers are rising and clubs have, through the sub-professional recruitment networks, been going bonkers to secure their top assets for the better times ahead.
All of which is good. And it might be worth therefore quietly doffing cap to Bill Pulver, who seems to be doing a terrific job of steering the ship away from choppy waters.
Finally, a request: get some questions, letters, rants, expletives, youtube clips, whatever it is, things that make you go humph or woo-hoo or things that make you wonder, get them in to me. A particularly skilful try, a dreadful piece of defence, a quirky statistic, all fair game. The aim of the new LP was to respond to readers more, and while last week it was most gratifying to see the measured responses to the discussions of Jared Payne's red card, there was nothing in the mailbox that hasn't been covered before to feed on this week. I don't watch every game and don't see every headline, don't get to participate in every bar-room debate. Whatever is on your mind in rugby this week, send it in – I'll be responding to as many as possible.
Loose Pass is written by former Planet Rugby Editor Danny Stephens