Welcome to Loose Pass, PR's weekly collection of muttered ramblings, frenzied rants and disjointed thoughts.
Welcome to Loose Pass, PR's weekly collection of muttered ramblings, frenzied rants and disjointed thoughts. This week's soapbox agenda features stats, mauls and eras.
The final digest statistics of the Six Nations strained our mailbox capacity this week, painting a significantly rosier picture of what transpired in Europe's stadia than might have been imagined.
There were several bests: Most tackles ever (since the Six Nations onset in 2000) at 3,747, of which Italy made 772 at a shoulder-jarring 154 per game. We also had the most ball carries since 2001 at 3,463 and the highest number of defenders beaten since 2003 at 537. Add to that any number of individual records – BOD alone set four – and you'd be of the opinion that the tournament was a classic.
Scott Johnson famously remarked early on in the tournament that statistics are like bikinis, showing a lot but not the whole thing. Indeed, going a step further, you'd say that it would be a case of showing a lot but leaving you to figure out for yourself the most important parts…
However, I had a look at the RBS site for a bit more. And I found, wondrously, that everything was up. Tries, line breaks, offloads, passes…. the one stat I found was down? Percentage of possession kicked away.
It started slowly, but this was a good Six Nations, leaving us an impression of England and Ireland especially having made huge progress in developing their game-styles and plans ahead of 2015. However, temper all this enthusiasm… in September, we'll have a gander at the Rugby Championship stats for all this.
Among all the rantings on cleaning out the tackle zone, diatribes on what constitutes the gate and spleen vented over TMOs unable to spot knock-ons, there might need to be a look at an aspect of the driving maul.
Have a look at Lood de Jager's try for the Cheetahs. It's at 21.15 here.
At the back of the maul as it begins to roll forward, there is a clear entry through the gate by a forward, upon whom the ball carrier, having unbound from another player, then quickly rebinds. It probably happens at least once a game.
Why is this not obstruction? Or is this one of those ubiquitous bits of technical fouling – akin to the scourge that is feeding into the scrum – that referees seem to tolerate because they've all but given up trying to get teams to stop it.
Law book paragraphs 17.2 b&c both shed some light on the intimacies: 17.2.b says 'a player must be caught into or bound to a maul', while 17.2.c says 'placing a hand on another player in a maul does not constitute binding.
There is also law 10.1.e which says 'a player carrying the ball must not intentionally run into team-mates in front of that player'. Looking back at the clip, I'd be pretty certain that at 21.21, De Jager contravenes all three of those laws for a moment.
The good driving maul is as close as you can get – having Israel Folau on your side apart – to rugby's unstoppable weapon. Once rumbling forward, it's inevitable someone will be penalised for coming in on the side collapsing it, or maybe all the defenders behave themselves and there's a try.
But the use of such unstoppable weapons need to be earned. One of the great skill parts of the maul is the ability to keep it driving forward while transferring it through the hands in the middle so that the guy on the back has the chance to peel off and score, or so that he can simply crash over once his team has driven far enough forward.
But allowing the guy at the back to unbind and rebind as others come and join in front of him is not only textbook obstruction, it is also a negation of this skill. Lazy rugby and easy meat for big packs.
Rugby allowed mauls back because they are a facet of the game and because teams like to use it. Great. Nothing against that. But it's an area as technical as a scrum and needs to be officiated accordingly so that we keep the maul as the lawbook intended.
A lot of on-pitch eras are in flux at the moment. It's been years since you might have tipped Toulouse to have won only one away game in the league by the end of March. Biarritz, once perennial Heineken Cup knockout round contenders, are down and gone from France's top flight with four games still to be played.
Perpignan might yet join them. Nobody knows what the future holds for the Welsh regions, Wasps are yet to rediscover their former glory.
Quietly, another on-pitch era is in a transitional phase at the moment too: that of the Super Rugby referee roster. So many games this season have started with the ubiquitous flash-up of the referee, quickly followed by the viewer question: who?
As it turns out, many of them simply got dumped on Monday. No fewer than four officials, all who have made howlers over the past couple of weeks, were struck from the lists for the next two rounds, with officials chief Lyndon Bray giving a coach's press conference-style set of reasons for the changes.
Perfectly fair enough, and hopefully the process allows these guys to correct their flaws and learn from their mistakes. But it has definitely struck me this season more than most that there is a new generation of referees coming through and that the familiar names who have brought us through the last decade are fewer and fewer. Watch this space over the next few weeks as we have a look at men in the middle we can see dominating the next decade…
As the column enters injury time for the week, we're also giving mention of a new regular feature to the column: that of the reader debate. Send us your opinions, thoughts and moments of question from the week past each Monday and we'll endeavour to bring you considered opinion and answer in our reader debate section. I look forward to a chunky mailbox next Monday!
Loose Pass is now written by former Planet Rugby Editor Danny Stephens