This week we will concern ourselves with Super Rugby form, commentating as a cultural artefact and the mysterious French situation…
This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with Super Rugby form, commentating as a cultural artefact and the French situation…
It's not been the most classic Super Rugby opening. Some ugly weather in South Africa and some indifferent form from some who were expected to dazzle has given this season the look of one which might see a power shift. The Bulls are no longer a fearsome force. The Crusaders look genuinely stale.
Meanwhile the Highlanders are running superbly, even if they couldn't quite close out a win against the Chiefs. The Waratahs finally look like they might live up to potential. The Rebels – albeit against a weak Cheetahs side – look like the real deal. The Sharks look technically vastly superior to the rest of the South Africa teams.
The biggest eyebrow-raisers of all so far have been the Crusaders though. Even with some stalwarts back in the team last weekend they looked horrifically out of sync and shape – at times it was reminiscent of France's dire effort against Wales in Cardiff.
Two blanks from two games in local derbies is a start that leaves an uphill climb for what is still reputed to be the most talented roster among the franchises. Dan Carter's sabbatical has evidently left a monumental hole in terms of game control, but it is not like it was a sudden injury.
It is perplexing that Colin Slade, once third in line to the All Blacks number ten jersey, is preferred at full-back. Questions linger from the Blues game over discipline too. And two crucial missed tackles from Richie McCaw? When was the last time that happened?
Personnel has changed, yes, but not that much. Something has dwindled in the Crusaders' camp, and New Zealand's flagship team needs to get it back, fast.
A listen to commentators from different countries often reveals much about the different cultures prevalent there. Listening to the New Zealand commentators will yield mention of the word 'skills' at least once every five or so minutes, Australian commentary is punctuated by some excellent dry humour.
South African commentary often comes as a stream of consciousness rather than real information, but there's no disguising the enthusiasm or simple love of the game. If the commentary comes as unrefined bluster (the excellent Joel Stransky aside), think of the mix of thunderous physicality and speed the South Africans play at. They all talk like they play.
Head north, and we come to the crux of this matter. During Friday night's Saracens-Bath game – by no means a bad one – we had the English commentators responsible giving a decent account of what was going on and doing their best to drum up a little drama in what was from early on a thoroughly convincing Saracens victory.
But at some point a Saracens player made a tackle, subsequently spending a good few seconds after the tackle lying there and waiting for the referee to instruct him to roll away. Another Bath attack petered out.
The commentary on this? “That's really good there,” said the voice. “He's not only brought the guy down, he's left himself there just long enough to let his support get there and stop the scrum-half getting it away. Excellent stuff.”
Or words to that effect anyway. Excellent play? For Saracens maybe, but it seems to be a cultural flaw for a neutral observer to reward negativity like this. Perhaps something along the lines of “he's getting away with something there, Saracens will be happy but referees have got to be harder” might be more appropriate?
Or is English club rugby commentary also to be an artefact of English rugby culture, where negative play is revered?
It takes balls to drop one of your most influential players. So Philippe Saint-AndrÃ© has passed that test. But now we will see what his players think.
Lest we forget, Saint-AndrÃ© did inherit a squad beset with internal rifts, one which spent most of the last World Cup trying to get rid of the coach and pick itself, one constantly struggling for identity and form, one struggling to come to terms with a ludicrous fixture calendar and unable to settle on any team long-term simply because of the sheer weight of injuries. Three more have gone since the defeat to Wales.
But back to PSA. Louis Picamoles has not been a disciplinary nightmare in the past; his sarcastic applause to Alain Rolland smacked of a frustration deeper than just being on the receiving end, while the disjointed performance in Cardiff – and they weren't a lot better against Italy even though they won – had the look of a team with some different factions in it.
If Picamoles belongs to one of those factions, watching the team's reaction against Scotland ought to show in black and white just which way the dominant faction is pulling. And then we might have a very clear picture either of what PSA needs to do, or who he needs to get rid of, or indeed, what his fate might be.
Finally, some healthy response on the issue of scrums the week past from you all, thank you. Sadly, as many of you pointed out, the solutions would only, inexorably lead to further problems.
Our favourite short-term measure was that from Mr. Giles Stokes, who recommended a time-stoppage from the moment the scrum was signalled until the ball emerged from the back of the scrum. This would at least ensure we got 10-15 minutes more rugby per game. However, this does not stop the problem of the time spent watching not a lot happening.
We were quite interested to see what was under the hybrid rules that Israel Folau endorsed this week, and to see if anything was added to the scrum there as an experiment, but sadly there was very little. So the quest for the scrum solution goes on.
Meantime, here is a look at the hybrid rules Folau mentioned… interesting. But we'd need a lot of convincing.
Loose Pass compiled by Richard Anderson