Loose Pass

Date published: September 17 2014

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Welcome to Loose Pass, our weekly collection of outrageous offloads, 30m spin pass bullets and hospital doughnut lobs.

Welcome to Loose Pass, our weekly collection of outrageous offloads, 30m spin pass bullets and hospital doughnut lobs.

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with SANZAR's latest revolutionary idea, classy acts of sportsmanship and a sublime piece of skill…

In the wake of the endless TMO and touch judge controversies dogging the Super Rugby tournament, and indeed, following some decidedly dicey calls in the Rugby Championship, SANZAR were purported to have mooted this system earlier in the week.

The article cites a comparison to cricket and tennis, but the most pertinent comparison to be drawn is undoubtedly with the NFL, where a coach can throw down a red flag to challenge a call from a previous play as long as the action has not got underway again.

A wrong challenge costs the coach a time-out, which are of inestimable tactical importance in NFL, so there is good pressure to get it right.

What this generally means is that a coach usually has 45 seconds max to review the play – or have it reviewed upstairs and the opinion of his assistant relayed to him, whereupon out comes the flag. Or not.

Either way, those who would argue – as Ewen McKenzie has – that we would be heading for too much dead time as rugby is a game with no natural pauses are not entirely right – most of the challengeable decisions regard scoring a try anyway, which, including the kick after, is probably the longest non-injury pause in the game for both teams.

I reckon this might prove to be an excellent balance to the system.

As the initial report points out, referees have recently shown a tendency to hide behind their TMO, assistant referees especially.

This system gives power back to the man in the middle and on the side and gets them to back themselves and each other.

The danger, as McKenzie pointed out, is of teams getting multiple challenges right and thus breaking up the rhythm of the game.

But leaving aside the fact that his example of 20 challenges being successfully made would surely see that official struck off the roster for good, there perhaps simply needs to be a limit on the total number of challenges at all – say a maximum of five per team per match.

In the NFL coaches are restricted to just two challenges per game, with an extra one if they get both of their first two right.

Perhaps also, as in the NFL, an unsuccessful challenge should cost the team on the field of play – perhaps a free-kick to the opposition?

The further unanswered practical questions involve who makes the challenge and when.

In the NFL you have a plethora of referees and a coach permanently stalking the sidelines.

Indeed, when a challenge is imminent, the coach usually ends up sticking closer to the line referee than a wasp to a bowl of sugar, hand in pocket on flag ready to throw at the last available second.

In rugby, the closest possible player to the referee is the on-field captain. Really, it would be only he who could make the challenge.

So presumably he would have to ask the protagonists their considered opinion and then make the decision to challenge, something that would surely take no more than 30 seconds.

So the captain making the challenge, within 30 seconds of the decision seems reasonable.

Finally, is the challenge call only pertaining to try-scoring decisions? Or foul play as well?

Or will captains have recourse to take any isolated incident from the game – say an offside call against his side resulting in a penalty against – and get it reviewed.

Common sense would not dictate the latter, but that is how it is in NFL and those decisions can affect results just as much as tries.

An interesting side-effect there would be to see a team get a penalty in a kickable position, but worry about the challenge turning the decision over and therefore go for a quick tap to get the game going again and negate the possibility of challenge at all…

There's a heck of a lot to pore over with this, a heck of a lot of possible suggestions and permutations.

But this could be an excellent solution to the main problems of TMOs being over-used by reluctant referees and clear refereeing errors which take moments to be addressed.

If well-managed in terms of net impact on game flow and playing time, this would be an excellent addition to the game.


A cap doffed to Ma'a Nonu from Saturday. For playing 10 minutes with a broken arm? Well, yes, but no.

Nonu, through his pain haze, also remembered that counterpart Jean de Villiers was playing his 100th Test match and made sure that his jersey was awaiting de Villiers at the final whistle, removing it and instructing for it to be placed in de Villiers' cubby hole before heading to hospital.

It's the little details that make the greatest players.


Finally, from off-field gestures to on-field skill, this little beauty from Little Rock, Arkansas landed in my inbox this week.

Apparently Harlequins, in the wake of their blunt performance on Friday against Saracens, were first at Mike Baska's door…

Loose Pass compiled by former Planet Rugby Editor Danny Stephens

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