Loose Pass

Date published: September 10 2014

Welcome to Loose Pass, our weekly collection of fried egg butties, muesli-topped yoghurt bowls and Pains au chocolat.

Welcome to Loose Pass, our weekly collection of fried egg butties, muesli-topped yoghurt bowls and Pains au chocolat.

This week we will mostly be chewing over some early-season European form and the Rugby Championship controversies…
All across Europe, service has resumed as normal.

A cracking weekend of action from all over the globe is behind us, with no end of glorious tries and thunderous tackles to reflect on.

Performances of the weekend would have to be – in no particular order of preference or rank of quality – Exeter, Northampton Saints, Clermont, Griquas, Western Province, Edinburgh and Taranaki.

Collapse of the weekend goes to Wellington, who gave up a 24-point half-time lead to Auckland.

Individual display of the weekend has to be David Strettle's blistering hat-trick, one of which was a candidate for try of the weekend.

Early form in the Premiership suggests that avoiding relegation would appear to be a four-way battle between Gloucester, Sale, London Welsh and Newcastle.

One week does not make a season, but there was little evidence from any of that quartet to suggest that the opening day defeats were a false start. At the other end of the table there appears to have been little change, with Northampton in sensational form. How tasty does this weekend's Quins-Sarries match-up look?

In France, Toulouse's aura is well and truly gone, with Racing Metro's supposed contention for any championship places also looking like the stuff of fantasy.

Over in the Pro12, Munster's capitulation at home to Edinburgh was as clear a sign yet that a) there might actually be a dressing-room disharmony regarding those leaked player profile notes and b) that the assessment of the one or other player being 'mentally weak' was not all that far from the truth. Glasgow, on the other hand, played like a team believing this ought to be their year.

More to come in Europe, not least the separation of men from boys in the European competition and the return of many an international player from his extended summer break. But these are the storylines to be keeping an eye on.

It was not a weekend of distinction in the Rugby Championship for the officials. Abysmal weather in Napier robbed us of much of the gung-ho rugby we might have expected, but Pascal Gauzere's scrum interpretations also eviscerated Argentina's efforts at the set piece.

Consistent on the night the interpretations generally were, but it was light years away from the interpretations that had enabled Argentina to boss the Boks the week before and often had the feel of that old chestnut: the superior scrum being penalised. No wonder Marcos Ayerza was losing his rag.

Throw in the obvious – and denied – early tackle on Julian Savea and the appalling decision to refuse the Pumas a try for a knock-on, one that could not have been anything other than a charge-down, and you have a recipe for frustration.

Fortunately, neither single decision had any vast effect on the outcome, and while the scrum interpretations will be debated, they are just that: interpretations. Those need to be looked at in the context of a series of games. There was also much that Gauzere did right on a difficult night for rugby of any kind.

What did have an effect on the outcome of a game was undoubtedly George Clancy's decision to yellow card Bryan Habana, a decision made, lest we forget, with a review of the incident on the big screen behind him and a decision for which Clancy has been widely chastised.

The chaps at rugbydump have the highlights on their pages so while I can't provide a specific link for the incident, it is obvious where to find it here. It is at about 02.15.

First up: it is a high tackle. The first point of contact between Habana and Adam Ashley-Cooper is Habana's arm onto AAC's neck, so whatever Habana does after is immaterial in terms of penalty or not a penalty. Habana's weight then swings around before he wraps his other arm around AAC's waist. Habana, now behind AAC, drags him backwards and down.

This all happened very quickly, and with AAC's movement backwards suddenly and at speed, you did expect to see some form of swinging arm on the replay. At full speed and from a distance it did not look good.

But this is what replays are for. To clarify, crystallise, to sort out the small details and the bad from the unfortunate. Habana's arm did not swing, indeed, he looked for all the world as though he pulled out of all momentum with the initial arm and hoped to regain it with the other. It was not a reckless tackle and nor was it a dangerous one. The key moment in the tackle was Habana bringing AAC to ground with his second arm, not the impact of the first.

A penalty it was. A yellow card in terms of materiality and situational consequence it was most certainly not, and all watching were rightly gobsmacked, myself included.

However… A memorandum from 2011 on the IRB website clarifies quite clearly what referees are expected to consider in terms of dangerous play. It reads: A player must not tackle (or try to tackle) an opponent above the line of the shoulders even if the tackle starts below the line of the shoulders. A tackle around the opponent's neck or head is dangerous play.

The last paragraph of the memo states: Referees and Citing Commissioners should not make their decisions based on what they consider was the intention of the offending player. Their decision should be based on an objective assessment (as per Law 10.4(e)) of the overall circumstances of the tackle.

10.4 (e) states: A player must not tackle (or try to tackle) an opponent above the line of the shoulders even if the tackle starts below the line of the shoulders. A tackle around the opponent's neck or head is dangerous play.

So unfortunately for Habana, he did fall foul of this, and is most definitely, according to the letter of the law, in yellow card territory.

So this is where we come to the crux of the matter: When that chap for Ulster was sent off last year in the Heineken Cup, I argued that despite his apparent oblivion to the fact the Saracens player was in mid-air, the consequences of his recklessness were such that he had to be sent off, intention or not. The same applies here.

Out of context and harsh though it was in terms of the situation, Habana made a high tackle, carried out a piece of dangerous play, and was thus cautioned and temporarily suspended as per the law recommendations.

Of course, whether the law adhered to common sense here is very much up for debate, but it is not up to the law, or those enforcing it, to do that.

Should it be? Ask any lawmakers and they will reply with a resounding 'no'. But the game would be a lot more just at times if it was.

Loose Pass compiled by former Planet Rugby Editor Danny Stephens