This week we will mostly be sinking our teeth into feisty young ladies and the confirmation that the play-off round in Super Rugby is….
Welcome to Loose Pass, our weekly collection of wiener schnitzels, grilled sausage and fried potatoes. This week we will mostly be sinking our teeth into a brace of feisty young ladies and the confirmation that the extra play-off round in Super Rugby is….
I'll start with the latter. It's not just as though the Sharks were up against it having to travel to New Zealand, they'd have had to have done that anyway.
But to do it on the back of a breathless home victory over the Highlanders under increased pressure, lick the wounds, jet over – it's not an easy trip by any stretch of the imagination – and even vaguely put up a performance against a side that has had a whole week's extra rest is just crazy.
I was never really sure why both Super Rugby and the Top 14 added in the extra play-off rounds anyway. Particularly in the case of the Top 14, it seems to give a very average league season a better than average chance of getting into the play-offs and a legitimate shot at getting a championship they scarcely deserve. And you only have to finish one spot above halfway.
But for Super Rugby, with the time-zone demands heaped on top of the general match fatigue that comes from playing a competitive season, then three Test matches (for the best players), then finishing off said competitive season, the extra round of play-offs affording the two home semi-finalists an extra week of r'n'r are a money-making exercise as lamentable as they are transparent.
The semi-finals would have been exactly the same without those play-offs, but the Waratahs would have faced the Brumbies coming off the back of a tough trip to Queensland rather than a week of training, while the Sharks and Crusaders would at least have been as physically tired as each other instead of knackered Sharks facing revitalised Crusaders.
It's little wonder the scores were both 20-plus to single digit victories. Did anybody expect anything different?
Many coaches were pretty outspoken about the play-off system heading up to the first round, Jake White in particular saying “Why play these matches at all if they have little or no chance of making it through to the final?” The Sharks would have had to go from Durban to Christchurch to Sydney or back to Durban, while the Highlanders would have had to do the same, with the add-on of a trip from Dunedin to Durban in the first place.
Five out of 40 play-off matches have been won by the away side since their inception. That's just a waste of time in our book – and the more the competition expands, the more insurmountable those odds become.
Home and away fixtures would be the only fair way to do it in my book – or even (and here's a really radical thought) do away with the play-offs bar the final altogether. It's not like they are all sell-outs by any stretch of the imagination. And it would be pretty tough not acknowledging that the Waratahs have been the best team in this tournament from start to finish.
Onto the ladies. The Women's Rugby World Cup starts in France on Friday, further proof of the success and ever more frequent excellence in the sport when played by the fairer gender.
For a woman to get into rugby is a story that always piques curiosity though, and on the Australia team this week is a story better than most, for as Chloe Butler pulls on her green and gold, she will be doing so having joined the beautiful game from NFL!
Naturally not the NFL, rather the lingerie football league (LFL) which, for those of you with colder blood than I, is a somewhat brazen flesh-fest of fine young ladies barely dressed and throwing the pigskin to one another in four-down fashion which gets America awfully excited for the brief season it runs for.
Butler, who played for the LA Temptation, saw the LFL as a chance to carry on playing a good level of sport rather than just a big show for the guys, saying: “As women, it's hard. You get to your 20s and you finish school and all those athletic avenues close and you think, well, what next?
“I gave and sacrificed most of my childhood to be some kind of athlete, do I really just hang my hat here?
“I think the LFL worldwide has offered that platform for other women who had injuries or had to change sports. I think it's such a high calibre of athlete competing and that was why I joined it.”
“These girls are fair-dinkum athletes,” she continued.
“They're hitting hard and there is great support in terms of strength and conditioning and the best of physio and training facilities in terms of developing athletes, so I just took the opportunity.
“Had I not found the LFL and had a platform to keep me elite, in a contact sport and keep me game fit, I may not have been strong enough to be the player I am today.”
And then there's this one in New Zealand – not going to this World Cup but surely destined for the next one.
April Miller, niece of former All Black number eight Paul Miller, has been raising a few headlines by not only surviving but excelling in the Southland Presidents Grade Senior Men's competition for a few weeks, before the union took one look at the situation and promptly banned her from playing.
Miller, who declared herself 'pretty p***** off' about the ban, as it came only after her play started to generate headlines for its quality, said also she had no intention of playing in a women's league because “girls are really catty, they pull hair and stuff and get wee jabs in.”
We'll see how long she survives without the game there, but perhaps Chloe Butler can expect a call asking about LFL contacts….
Loose Pass compiled by former Planet Rugby Editor Danny Stephens