Loose Pass

Date published: June 17 2015

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This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with banks balances, LeBron James' love of rugby and a fond farewell or two.

Time for a whip round?

This week saw the publication of Forbes' latest list of the world's highest paid athletes and once again it made for staggering reading – especially for rugby union's leading lights.

Boxer Floyd 'Money' Mayweather is in a well-paid world of his own having pocketed US$300m (£193m) in the last year in pay and endorsements thanks largely to his recent showdown with Manny Pacquiao – whose pain at defeat will be softened by his second place on the list.

The top ten also includes football stars Cristiano Ronaldo (US$79.6m/£51m) and Lionel Messi, tennis legend Roger Federer (US$67m/£43m), NBA stars LeBron James (US$64.8m/£42m), Kevin Durant (US$54.1m/£35m) and Kobe Bryant (US$49.5m/£32m) and golf giants Phil Mickelson (US$50.8m/£33m) and Tigers Woods ($50.6m/£33m).

The other sports that make the grade in the Top 100 are NFL, Formula 1, MLB, cricket, athletics and even women's tennis but sadly no rugby union. In fact, you would have to go some way further down the list before you met a familiar name from the world of rugby such is the gulf in earning power. 

Rugby's biggest stars can only dream of such pay days.

Racing Metro-bound Dan Carter is reportedly going to pocket a relatively paltry US$2.2m (£1.4m) from next season and although he has numerous endorsement deals his earnings will never get anywhere near to those of Mayweather.

The attraction of playing in French rugby's top flight is clear to see although some continue to swim against the tide – with a little help from the world's richest union.

Bath and England star Sam Burgess is reportedly on a £500,000 a year salary with his Premiership club that is topped up some what by his international duty that earns him and his team-mates £15,000 per Test.

While Mayweather quite literally rolls in money having spent approximately an hour and a half in the ring over the last year, Carter and co must put their bodies on the line week after week for a fraction of the money.

TV money fuels the mega salaries of sport's highest paid athletes and while rugby union is enjoying growth in this area it cannot currently compete with these other sports in terms of popularity and global audience.

The sport's biggest star remains a team, not an individual – the All Blacks.

LeBron's love of rugby

Basketball star LeBron James took time out from counting his money – and battling for yet another NBA title – last week to give rugby union a boost in its bid for more air time.

Speaking to reporters following Cleveland Cavaliers' victory over Golden State Warriors in Game 3 of the NBA Finals, James heaped praise on Aussie team-mate Matthew Dellavedova's battling and scrambling skills and attributed them to his rugby roots.

“If ever you guys have an opportunity to ever watch a rugby game you see how tough it is, and that's what it's about,” he told a global audience.

The trouble is Dellavedova has never played rugby.

'I'm from Victoria – I don't know how rugby is played,” he insisted earlier this year when James first got Dellavedova's AFL background and his own clear love of rugby mixed up.

Rugby will welcome LeBron's failure to know the difference – and his inability to listen to his team-mates.

The crusade is over – for now

The last round of the Super Rugby regular season served as the end of an era as the Crusaders, the most dominant side in the competition's history, missed out on the play-offs for the first time since 2001.

Despite victory in their final outing against the Brumbies, it was a far from fitting finale for two of Super Rugby's greatest ever players and servants – Richie McCaw and Dan Carter – who are set for retirement and a move to France respectively.

It was McCaw's 100th Super Rugby victory making him the first player to achieve such a milestone. He is also the only player to have reached a century of wins on both the Test match stage and Super Rugby.

Carter is not short of some impressive numbers either with his 1,708 points leaving him well clear at the top of the all-time rankings where he looks set to stay for some time with no Super Rugby active players anywhere near him.

In truth, the Crusaders were simply not good enough this term and by the time they rediscovered some form – and that Carter can play a bit at number 10 – it was too late.

But the Crusaders' loss is set to be the All Blacks' gain.

McCaw is clearly raising his game at just the right time with a final hurrah at the Rugby World Cup looming. As menacing and annoying at the breakdown as ever, his work rate continues to belie the miles on his clock.

Carter is also looking ominously good and has some unfinished business to take care of at the sport's showpiece event. Cool and calm back pulling the Crusaders' strings, do not be surprised if he is handed the All Blacks' number 10 jersey for their World Cup defence.

And if a fresh and fired-up McCaw and Carter combo is not enough to send chills down the spines of their World Cup rivals, their All Blacks team-mate Kieran Read is also set to benefit from the Crusaders' absence from the post-season.

They would no doubt prefer to be in the title mix but will relish the opportunity to underline their class in The Rugby Championship and at the one that really matters.

Refs on the retreat?

Given some of the performances we've seen from referees this season and the criticism that has followed, it may not surprise you to hear they are considering retreating to a bunker – but don't get your hopes up.

Sanzar are reportedly contemplating creating a central Television Match Official system that will see officials based off-site from where they can 'control the camera angles' and not rely on broadcast replays.

It is also hoped being removed from the emotion of the occasion will also speed up the process that has taken a hammering this season.

A similar set-up – including the option to 'challenge' decisions – is set to be introduced in NRL and is also a feature of other sports such as basketball and baseball in the United States.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the driving force behind this innovation is not just the desire to get decisions right and protect the integrity of the sport – there is also a financial element.

It is understood a more streamlined and structured system would remove the painful delays which in turn could allow broadcasters to cut away for more lucrative adverts.

A quicker process will be most welcome but a greater reliance on technology does not sit so comfortably. And what good is a quicker ruling if it is still the wrong decision?

The human element means errors will no doubt still plague the game.

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

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