Loose Pass

Date published: May 27 2015

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This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with a premature celebration, a lack of consistency and how to stick out in a crowd.

A premature celebration

Congratulations are in order for Bath's father-and-son duo of Mike and George Ford having collected the Aviva Premiership director of rugby and player of the year honour respectively last week – and while we're at it we should also acknowledge Glasgow boss Gregor Townsend and Ospreys' Rhys Webb for picking up the PRO12 honours.

But as deserving as they are of some recognition following outstanding campaigns, surely the timing is all wrong with the silverware handed out with the most important two weeks of the season still remaining?

How can the process discount the most crucial twists and turns in the battle for the Premiership and PRO12 titles? And with the cut-off date being the end of the regular season, you have to question how Northampton director of rugby Jim Mallinder failed to get the nod having steered his side to the top of the table?

His side may have fallen at the semi-final hurdle but no side matched the Saints for consistency over 22 gruelling rounds of Premiership rugby.

And with Webb's season over following the Ospreys' semi-final defeat, why are Glasgow and Munster's leading lights denied the opportunity to make a play for the award in the title decider?

The pressure of the knock-out stages is the ultimate test of player and coach so why do the Premiership and PRO12 insist on belittling their efforts by not including them in their deliberations?

Can you imagine World Rugby naming its Player and Coach of the Year winners before the World Cup had reached a climax?

Crying out for consistency

Another week, another disappointing showing from leading officials – or so it seems. We'll skim over the controversial turn of events at the end of the Champions Cup play-off between Gloucester and Connacht where referee Romain Poite appeared to gift the Premiership side a priceless foothold from where they snatched a dramatic victory – and instead return to the Super Rugby stage.

Waratahs hooker Tolu Latu can consider himself a very lucky boy. His ugly and reckless up-ending of Crusaders lock Sam Whitelock, with a little help from team-mate Will Skelton, midway through the first half of their clash at the weekend cost him 10 minutes in the sin-bin but in truth referee Marius van der Westhuizen got it wrong and it should have been red.

Van der Westhuizen may claim that Whitelock was not dropped on his head of neck but that was only because he was able to free an arm to break his fall – his escape from serious inury had nothing to do with Latu.

Just a month ago Western Force's Ian Prior was shown red – correctly – by referee Angus Gardner for a similarly dangerous tip tackle on the Chiefs' Tim Nanai-Williams by referee.

The law – 10.4 (j) to be precise – is pretty clear: "Lifting a player from the ground and dropping or driving that player into the ground whilst that player's feet are still off the ground such that the player's head and/or upper body come into contact with the ground is dangerous play."

And the punishment is a red card – as SANZAR game manager Lyndon Bray is sure to remind Van der Westhuizen at the earliest opportunity.

Sticking out in a crowd

England head coach Stuart Lancaster unveiled his Rugby World Cup training group last week – did you get in?

The list of those players in the mix for the World Cup stretches to 50 but a handful of others were also name-checked by Lancaster who is certainly keeping his options open.

It must be a huge thrill to be on England's radar with a home World Cup on the horizon, especially if injury has previously threatened to derail your tournament hopes like Ben Morgan, or you are a relative newcomer to the senior set-up such as Luke Cowan-Dickie, Elliot Daly, Maro Itoje and Henry Slade.

But the joy felt by those players will soon be replaced by despair as they ponder how on earth are they going to stand out in the crowd and catch the eye of the coaches?

Impressive domestic form may have earned them that chance but it will take something special – or some misfortune for someone else – to propel them into Lancaster's plans given the faith he shows to a core group of players.

The training at Pennyhill Park and in Denver will no doubt be intense but attitude off the pitch may be just as pivotal as ability on it when it comes to earning a spot in the final 31-man squad that must be named by August 31.

Play-off pain hard to swallow for Saints

You have to have a little sympathy for Northampton. They were the best side in the Premiership throughout the regular season and their outstanding form was rewarded with top spot in the table.

They also claimed victories over Saracens both home and away but it is their rivals who progressed to this season's title decider at Twickenham having got the better of Saints in the most important 80 minutes of their respective seasons – to that point.

It took a while to convince me, but I am a fan of the play-off system – although it still appears cruel on the side that sets the standard throughout the season if they fail to maintain that momentum through to the final whistle at HQ, especially given the brutal nature of the modern game and the demands on the players week in, week out.

The bounce of the ball tends to even out over a season but that is not always the case over the course of 80 minutes of what it usually frenetic knock-out rugby when the pressure can also get to the officials – but it is that added edge that makes the play-off system so enthralling.

Every side knows the rules of the competition at the start of the season and Northampton themselves upset Saracens in last season's finale having finished nine points adrift of their rivals in the regular season.

And Saracens deserve immense credit for scoring a rare away semi-final victory – just the fifth in 21 such clashes to that point.

Loose Pass is compiled by former scrum.com editor Graham Jenkins

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