Welcome to Loose Pass, our weekly assortment of waterlogged swamps, springy turfs and dry, grassless dustbowls.
Welcome to Loose Pass, our weekly assortment of waterlogged swamps, springy turfs and dry, grassless dustbowls. This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with TMOs, England's ladies and the eternal question to the All Blacks…
About six to eight weeks ago, I tried to resolve to leave TMOs alone. It was becoming repetitive to keep on about them and I was hoping that work might be done behind the scenes on improving TMO performance to the acceptable level – which ought to be nothing short of perfect, I mean, you have the benefit of an effective two dozen pairs of eyes, all with perfect photographic recall and slow-motion, even hi-definition slo-mo in some cases.
The decisions are made by humans in the end, so perhaps there will be a one-in-a-thousand, bizarre, brain farty kind of mistake, but in terms of eliminating the aspect of human error which makes refereeing so debatable, the TMO is the best we have.
Yet week after week after week I find myself looking at video clips, looking at TMO decisions and reviews and shaking my head in bewildered disbelief at what these chaps are allowing to pass by their multiple eyes – and ears on occasion, as TMOs often have the contributions of match commentators backing up their replays.
Have a look at the Johan Goosen drop goal for Racing Metro against Montpellier, where both match referee and TMO had a view as clear as day of the ball dipping under the bar – they even freeze the frame in which the view of the ball is obstructed by the bar as it drops. It's at about 3.00 here…
It is with great shame that I note, after some well-chosen words from you the readers, that I have erred in almost precisely the same manner which I had alluded the TMO to have done, in that I did not check every detail of what had happened in the previously-mentioned Toulon-Bayonne incident.
Smith was offside when Bastareaud made the kick… and then was played onside by Bastareaud himself. So Smith was onside for the try and the TMO was absolutely correct to award the try.
I will shamelessly cling to the straw of what the hell the guy looking at the replay in Montpellier was thinking. And I will play that over and over again as a crumb of comfort while I struggle to digest a monstrous slice of humble pie and continue to dab forlornly with a wet towel the fast-drying egg-yolk smeared all over my face.
Huge congratulations to the English ladies, who took home the WRWC in some style on Sunday. For anyone who has not seen it, the highlights are here and bear out just how far the ladies' game has come over the past decade.
Women's rugby used to remind me – a long time ago I might add – of those games between the U13 C and D teams in mid-November fog and mulch, with packs of bodies trudging around looking like it was a race between their bodies and the final whistle to see which one would blow up first. And yes, I was a deeply chauvinistic sceptic.
Five years ago I was lucky enough to spend some time in New York, where the ladies team of New York Rugby Club did a great deal to dispel that notion by playing with structure, shape, strength and not inconsiderable skill on their way to a national title.
The skills on show at times in this WRWC were good enough for me to watch dire slugfests like Toulon's win over Bayonne on Friday and reconsider which of the players on show were worth their money.
Two moments in the build-up to England's first try alone were better than anything on show in the Stade Jean Dauger, while Canada's Magali Harvey is a stellar talent.
The IRB, in the wake of what has been a terrific and successful tournament, has pledged to do all it can to grow the women's game. Hear, hear.
Once again the All Blacks mark 2014 with an indifferent performance, making it four out of four so far. Only once this year, for 40 glorious minutes in Hamilton, has the 2014 vintage even come close to touching the heights of the previous one.
Is this great side finally fading? Have the old heads outstayed their physical potential? Are these now legitimate questions for New Zealand fans rather than something to be derided as s***-stirring?
You will, I assume, debate below. From this armchair, Richie McCaw is giving away penalties he would never have given away in his prime. Cory Jane has not been the same since returning from his long-term injury. Ma'a Nonu is no longer a near-unstoppable bulldozer in midfield. The front row is no longer regarded as indomitable by even the greenest of opponents.
The team as a whole no longer seems to have the zip and derring-do at crucial moments which made it one you feel could score at any moment if it so wished.
I have said these things before and I will now say them again: New Zealand will suffer for not instigating a more thorough squad rebuild after the 2011 triumph, while the dark horse that is Stuart Lancaster's England 2015 is getting lighter by the day.
Loose Pass compiled by former Planet Rugby Editor Danny Stephens