Loose Pass

Date published: May 21 2014

This week we focus on the passport debate, contractual idiocy, and what real rugby is like.

Welcome to Loose Pass, our weekly assembly of bench-warming veterans, guys who use up all the tape and soon-to-be-initiated U19s.

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with the passport debate, contractual idiocy, and a reminder of what real rugby is like. And of what it is not – including a little point of law that seemed to go amiss.

Thanks to all for the contributions on the passport debate from last week's LP, there were some good contributions (even if more of you seemed concerned about not stoning a referee to death for making a dodgy call).

The general consensus seems to be:

1) Three years is too short, five might be better, or maybe more.
2) Tier two nations are exploiting the rules more than tier one and this is a problem too little discussed or alluded to.
3) It would not be a bad idea to let players consider any period of five (or maybe even more) continuous years during their life they have spent in a country, in order to let childhood/upbringing bonds with a country also count (although regulating that might be a nightmare).
4) The concept of a player choosing to move to a country to try and play for the national team for no reason of loyalty or blood heritage is the big problem – and the measures above could be better at stopping this.
5) The only other way to solve the controversy would be to insist solely on a heritage relationship to the country going back no further than two generations, or for the IRB to insist that players are passport-eligible for their country in order to play for it.

Personally, I reckon seven years, according to principle three above, is probably about right, if it can be regulated properly.

Not that I am a great fan or anything, but I was quite intrigued to see what Gavin Henson might achieve back in a pseudo-Welsh jersey next weekend. Dispatches out of Bath are largely telling of a good solid player who appears to be keeping his nose clean and his knees dirty.

This renaissance, unfortunately, will not now happen, for the really petty reason that he is still under contract to Bath as the trial match is outside the Test window – despite Bath's season being quite categorically over the week before.

I understand the contracts are there for a reason, and often that reason is player management – not letting the battered body take on too much rugby. I also understand that this is in place to prevent the very best players being exploited by the ludicrous calendar (especially in the north). I also understand that precedents are a deeply dangerous thing to set when it comes to exceptions.

But I do not understand Bath's standpoint. Henson is not exactly a first-choice player at the Rec, not exactly a prize asset. Nor is this match an extra to the November window – i.e. in the middle of a season. Surely good management – which means not denying a player his opportunities at a higher level – would have been to release him from his contract completely for that time, meaning all insurances and salary as well, and let Henson and the WRU sort out their own deal for the game (or not, if the WRU decided it was too much hassle?)

That has to be something better than simply not letting someone play rugby and forcing him to kick his heels?

Of course, the source of the problem is that long season – and for this, I re-open debate time for the week: is there anybody out there who can create a good, meaningful and uncongested domestic and international global calendar which gives players enough rest, ends the club v country bitching we hear thrice a year and maintains all the tournaments we need to keep the game thriving professionally?

Answers below as ever please…

A rash of red cards this week only goes to show that it is tension time around the globe as the Super Rugby begins to lose the stragglers and Europe heads to the Finals.

But it's good to know those involved in even the most ugly of flashpoints can get the banter going in the spirit of old. Here's some twitter dialogue between Tom Youngs and his assailant Salesi Ma'afu after a belting East MIdlands derby semi-final on Friday:

Youngs: “Good shot mate (referring to Ma'afu's punch that left Youngs somewhere in next week for a while), go well in the final.”

Ma'afu: “Cheers. The jersey can overcome you in the heat of the battle. I owe you a pint.”

Excellent. That's rugby.

Chris Ashton is not. From the Northampton-Saracens transfer saga to the ludicrous and childish swallow dives, he is just not someone who will ever make a list of revered people within the sport. He is good, but nowhere near as good as he thinks he is – he misses a heck of a lot of tackles for one – and appears just to be someone who does not understand what the game is about.

Anyway, the latest turd in the water-pipe is Ashton shouting 'push it' as Nick Evans was lining up a penalty kick in Saturday's semi-final win over Harlequins – the reason we could hear it is because the rest of the crowd was dutifully, respectfully, quiet for Evans.

How the RFU can admit that they know he did it and not slap him with at least a couple of games' ban for some form of unsportsmanlike conduct is beyond me – the only reason we can think of is that Ashton could have been set for a ban ahead of the two critical games where Lancaster can assess him under the highest pressure.

Be that as it may, there's something else. Did the referee hear the shout? In which case, Ashton ought to have been penalised, with the penalty applying from the restart after Evans' kick.

Law 10.4 (m) states: Acts contrary to good sportsmanship. A player must not do anything that is against the spirit of good sportsmanship in the playing enclosure. Sanction: Penalty kick.

That said, Law 9.B.3 (c) also states: A defending team must not shout during a kick at goal. Sanction: If the opposing team infringes but the kick is successful, the goal stands.

Tough one… but surely what Ashton did is as contrary to good sportsmanship as it gets?

Also, before you all jump on me like an angry openside, I am aware Jonny is retiring. The tribute will come after his final game. I mean… He could still get sent off or fluff a kick at goal or something…

Loose Pass is compiled by former Planet Rugby Editor Danny Stephens