This week we will mostly be booting the leather off…. everything. It was that sort of week.
Welcome to Loose Pass, our weekly assortment of fluffed conversions, sliced punts and grubbered drop goal attempts. This week we will mostly be booting the leather off…. everything. It was that sort of week.
So, as weekends of rugby go… was that not an absolute beauty? From the desperate game-clinching infringements of the Sharks to the mesmerising flow of the South Island derby to the rugged purism of the Heineken Cup Final, it was just one of those weekends to strap oneself in and forget the world for a weekend.
I have made a note of 19 subjects for this week's LP, clearly not a number I am going to be able to do justice to.
So let's lump a few into one subject shall we? Start with category one: Bizarre Calls.
Number one: the ludicrous offside steal by the Sharks that led to their winning try. The law is very clear: ruck definition is “… a phase of play where one or more players from each team, who are on their feet, in physical contact, close around the ball on the ground. Open play has ended.”
Then Law 16.5 (c): “… player joining a ruck must do so from behind the foot of the hindmost team-mate in the ruck. A player may join alongside this hindmost player. If a player joins the ruck from the opponents' side, or in front of the hindmost team-mate, the player is offside.”
Francois Steyn – who admittedly probably was not aware the ruck had formed as he had eyes only for the ball after the tackle – joined the ruck after one of his team-mates and one of the Blues had already gone shoulder to shoulder over the ball, patently obviously from the Blues' side. It was a dreadful lapse by the officials.
Number two: Steve Walsh calling an obstruction on a supporting player who slowed down to make sure he was behind the ball-carrier. His words as he viewed the incident: “Ah, we can't have that.” CUCKOO!
Number three: Northampton's fifth successful penalty. Nick Abendanon knocks on into a welter of Bath players, one of whom actually hurdles the ball to avoid touching it materially before Abendanon went to recoup it again. Where, actually, was the penalty?
Number four: Alain Rolland – having consulted the TMO and watched the big screen – ruling Craig Burden was not off his feet at the ruck. Or that he was making a reasonable attempt to bind when hurling himself in there.
Number five: Pretty much any scrum in the Challenge Cup Final. It was farcical.
Yet credit where due, these calls were more outstanding because of the general quality of the rest of the whistling. And there was one superb call: Vinny Munro, called upon to make the toughest decision of the entire weekend at the culmination of the Highlanders-Crusaders epic, got it absolutely spot on.
Category two: Moments Not To Be Proud Of.
Number one: Bryan Habana and that dive. Where's a Nigel Owens ticking off when you need one?
Number two: Nick 'Honey Badger' Cummins' clearance kick that led to the Lions' try. Give yourself an uppercut, sir!
Number three: Anybody who wore Puma's 'odd boots' attempt at being slightly different from the rest. It's not hard to see why Puma's recent financials are a little squiffy…. One blue one, one pink one? Come on…
Number four: Ulster's insistence that releasing John Afoa from his contract was ok because they had a world-class tighthead eligible for Ireland coming through the ranks.
That player? Ulster's 'Project Player' Wiehahn Jovan Herbst. Born in Klerksdorp, raised in Klerksdorp, rugby-initiated for five years in the Sharks. About as much Ulster or Ireland in him as there is Klerksdorp in me… the guy's already 26, by the time he is eligible for Ireland he will be 29… come on. At least Bundee Aki is young.
Nit-picking time: If you are able to watch a re-run of Northampton's win on Friday night (it's bound to be out there somewhere at some point), have a look at Lee Dickson's action.
Frequently at the back of a ruck, Dickson can be seen to be adopting good scrum-half foot position, then bending forward and laying both palms of his hands on the ground beside the ball, before raising his body up again and pausing before again going – and actually playing – the ball.
It's been a long time since the common-sense penalty was introduced to stop scrum-halves milking penalties from enthusiastic defenders by dummy passing, but the initial impression of Dickson's odd action was that it was designed to do exactly the same thing. He would not be the only scrum-half making some peculiar shuffles around the ball for no discernible reason either. Time for the lawmakers to have a look?
While the North-South divide is likely to be exposed for all that it is on the pitch over the next month or so, off the pitch it is beginning to pick up too. Not only do you have SARU CEO Jurie Roux denouncing the Premiership's salary cap as 'fictional', you have the NZRU up in arms over the refusal of the northern unions to move the June Test window to July so as to kindly accommodate the extended Super Rugby calendar.
Despite his attempt at reasoning: “… Some think it's not beneficial for their preparation, they think it's best for their national teams to play Tests straight after the domestic competition, rather than have a break and then come back together” (because that's what the NZ teams would be doing too isn't it…. oh, no wait…), it looks like nothing more than a realisation that even the south now has got the same problem as the north when it comes to fixture lists. No northern team is even going to consider playing competitive rugby in July.
Too. Much. Rugby.
Commentary moment of the week: during one of the New Zealand derbies this little gem: “… these boys are so quick to steal. They could make a lot of money around some European train stations if they keep this up.”
Non-commentary moments of the week: Too many Man of the Match awards to number tens or goal-kickers. Fly-halves do control the game and lead the decision-making, yes. The ultimate performers they are not always. It's about time we got some imagination into these gongs and recognised the real workers in teams.
And there could be more. We've not yet touched on the David Moffett-led Welsh revolution, the unique pressures of playing in your last game for a club you have served for a long time and being too desperate to make a mark (Nick Abendanon), the curious case of Juan Figallo, who has a neck injury which means he is medically retired in France but not in England where he has now signed for Saracens (hmm…. that salary cap might be fictional after all), or the reflection that might lead Highlanders fans to point to Patrick Osborne's standing ludicrously flat for that final pass, so flat he took it standing still and then got bundled into touch…
There could be more. It was a brilliant rugby weekend.
Loose Pass compiled by former Planet Rugby Editor Danny