This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with television intrusion, dreadful disciplinary calls, dream teams and sad news.
This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with television intrusion, dreadful disciplinary calls, dream teams and some very sad news…
Sunday newspapers are often known to occasionally come up with some of the more fanciful of scoops. But while The Independent's Sunday story about TV bosses wanting their commentators to be briefed on coaching gameplans and given access to the key moments of training sounds like just one of those flights of fancy, those of us who have been around long enough to watch TV's slow and painful encroachment upon the top flight will realise with a sense of grimness that this is probably serious.
In the beginning there were match highlights. Then there were post-shower interviews. Then there were post-match interviews, breathless monosyllabic vox pops with knackered players either determined to get to the sanctity of the dressing room and swallow defeat or celebrate victory; either way, knackered players for whom the last person they wanted to talk to was some grinning suited pundit. Even less so the lip-glossed vixens whose post-match questions got progressively more cretinous the younger and glossier the interviewers became. Some players even briefly rebelled… somewhere on youtube there's a terrific clip of Fred Michalak telling an interpreter that the question he had just faced was too stupid to answer and would the interpreter please make something plausible up.
Yet emanating in France, there came the excruciating notion of the in-match interview, a microphone thrust into the face of one of the anguished coaches during the game; a stream of inane questions thrown at him while he tries to pick apart each micromoment of his team's performance so as to be able to wring and coax the very best out of them. In other countries this was toned down to the half-time pitch exit interview, a heaving collection of grunts and gasps from players looking for the dressing room, a good slice of orange, glug of water and nip of rum as uncomfortable as it is uninformative.
And now, TV is about to not only intrude further into the game's private corners, it is also about to ask for – nay, insist on – access to the information that coaches spend nights, weeks, months working on and refining. Tactics and training moves are to be given to the pundits who have been 'sworn to secrecy' ('I promise I won't blab, honest'? Or an actual binding oath?) so that the pundits can – presumably- go 'Ahh yes, we used to do this when…' and thus refine their status among the stratospheric.
As Brian Smith so rightly retorts when asked about the possibility: “Something like the NFL Hard Knocks programme that follows a team in pre-season could work well. But I'm pretty sure the coaches would guard their tactics jealously. I wouldn't be keen on sharing our thought process or detailed preparation. It's sport, it's not Big Brother.”
It's not Big Brother. It's long since time sports broadcasters stopped trying to make it so. The post-shower interview used to yield some good insight, everything since then has only served to show that athletes in the thick of it are not articulate nor glamorous.
Pundits earn a small fortune creating debating points for their viewers, but this move smacks of trying to remove that element of debate, trying to take away the process of second-guessing that sports viewers go through, that process with which we happily while away our time and money down the boozer on a Saturday afternoon.
One's own punditry is the best bit about being a sports fan. Trying to work out what coaches are trying to achieve and what the key elements of moves and structures are is why watchers watch. The secrecy of coaches' tactics and structures, their ability to plan surprises and cutting moves and durable defensive structures is why coaches coach. A move that opens up all the coaches' secrets and ruined viewers' analytical attempts of a Saturday afternoon…. just doesn't seem all that fun at all.
A week? One measly week for Ronan O'Gara? Once again the disciplinary takes a quick butchers at the fixture calendar and strikes a delicate balance between appearing to punish and making sure that the miscreant player is available for the international matches he might be required for and to hell with the law book.
It wasn't just a trip by O'Gara, it was a petulant and cowardly piece of retaliation, a kick masquerading as a trip. Both things all our first rugby coaches would have told us in our first training session are among the worst transgressions in the game.
One week. Once again, following a verdict, it seems it is the disciplinary panel that needs a citing.
Castrogiovanni to Toulon now? Because John Smit wasn't enough? Nor Carl Hayman, Bakkies Botha, Jonny Wilkinson, Matt Giteau, Mathieu Bastareaud…. Rugby really does have its very own dream team, the looming possibility of a side in which every one of the starting XV could legitimately be – or in most cases, have been – considered the best in the world in his position.
All very good. But perhaps it's not such a horrific waste of money as it might be made out to be. There is a good thousand international caps' worth of experience behind the Toulon squad at the moment. In a couple of years, most of those caps will be in retirement, with a new generation of players coming to replace them…. just imagine what kind of an education those Toulon reserve players will have had during the Dream Team years.
Finally, the French rugby world has been rocked by the passing of Eric BÃ©chu this week. BÃ©chu, one of the French coaching fraternity's more colourful characters, has left a lasting legacy not only at Montpellier but also at Albi, where he was the Head Coach for 11 years including a memorable couple of seasons fighting astronomical odds in the Top 14.
The messages of condolence have come form far and wide, while Montpellier's fabulous performance on Saturday was a fitting send-off for the forwards coach who helped make Montpol genuine title contenders. All those who have felt his influence will remember him, most notably for his passion and loyalty. French rugby has lost a true rugby man.
Loose Pass compiled by Richard Anderson