Loose Pass

Date published: August 6 2014


Welcome to Loose Pass, our weekly collection of contestable balls on the ground, imaginary gate lines and releasing tacklers.

Welcome to Loose Pass, our weekly collection of contestable balls on the ground, imaginary gate lines and releasing tacklers. This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with that penalty, the rest of the Super Rugby Final and the latest developments in Wales…

Was it? Wasn't it? Even McCaw himself has confessed it was 50-50. Todd Blackadder has rued it and cursed it and shouted at it and said things about its mother, but even he has not said outright 'it can't have been.'

Peculiarly, in stark contrast to several of the previous weeks, highlights are available online, which means we can dig out our refereeing manuals and have a look. Sadly, there is no replay, but the incident starts at 0.20 here:

There is already something untoward as Tola Latu picks up the ball and goes down the right side: there is actually no tackler. Latu is tripped by a stray leg in the ruck – one with blue socks, we might add – and goes to ground.

Next thing that happens that two Crusaders players – Sam Whitelock was the other I think although the number is not clear – go for the ball. Whitelock is standing directly in line with the gate, while McCaw is standing to the side. If you freeze it at 0.22, you can quite clearly see the two Crusaders players going for the ball and remember, neither was the tackler, so there was no question of not releasing.

Crucially though, another Waratahs player – the one whose leg tripped Latu – springs to his feet and immediately is in a contest with Whitelock, creating a ruck. At this ruck, McCaw is most certainly standing at the side – a position further exacerbated when the ruck inches forward slightly, meaning a body adjustment from McCaw leaves his backside smiling roughly in the direction of the intersection between 22 and touchline, and even more exacerbated when he is upended by a cleaner and driven over to the other side. On a rewind, even when Latu went to ground, McCaw's action was a diagonal entry. Once that ruck had formed, any act by McCaw would have been from the side.

So our call? Penalty. And we genuinely think that had McCaw left it, or at least got out of it quickly, the Crusaders might have had a penalty instead as Whitelock was in a prime position to steal and was not being cleaned out.

Let the debate rumble on! But in a game where Craig Joubert was nigh on faultless, the most important call he got spot on.

There were a morass of further talking points from a cracking final. Many other subjects were scrawled on my notepad, almost as many scribbled out as the game ebbed and flowed.

My notes upon the importance of a set piece: rendered irrelevant as the Waratahs sneaked the match. Discipline: not much there – 39 points from penalties tells its own tale. The importance of starting a game well: also scribbled off as the Crusaders bundled their way back into it. TMOs are still not doing as well as they should be – I am sure Nemani Nadolo's right foot touched the touchline before he got the ball down.

No, decisive penalty aside, this was not a game that could prove a philosophical point, as for every one of those one side proved, the other team found a way of negating it.

It was a perfect game of rugby for the spectator, with every element of the game on show, nicked by a goal-kicker in the final minute operating at the limit of his range and capitalising on a crucial 51-49 refereeing decision. But this is not one the Crusaders should regard as having got away, it was just one that went the way it goes.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, the fun and games in Wales is by no means over yet. Warren Gatland has named his central contract hit-list of ten players, all of whom could face Sam Warburton's problem of his central contract with the WRU excluding his possibility of playing for one of the regions who stand at firm loggerheads with the union. It's becoming known as Catch-7.

Below the regions – and announced loud and proud by the union – Josh Lewsey's extensive plan for an aligned seasonal structure allowing school, club and representative rugby to operate in harmony with each other (a concept sounding way too good to be true) was revealed on Friday.

While it is far, far too soon to know how good it is, the aspects emphasized in the announcement: ensuring good time for schoolboys to pursue academia as well as rugby, transfer between schools and clubs (not that easy) and never forgetting the love of the game certainly struck the right notes.

So the next move might now need to be from the regions. They obviously have critical turf to defend – an absence of competitive Welsh teams at elite level would be a massive problem – but the approach from the union appears to be less emotional, less self-serving and a lot more pragmatic and structure-oriented.

With the new season only a month away, it's about time this lot all got sorted out, as the Welsh, once again, are showing what potential they have if they could only all agree with each other.

Loose Pass compiled by former Planet Rugby Editor Danny Stephens