This week we have Wales, the disciplinary, a huge snub, European form, mysterious injury issues and a more suitable use of Twitter…
This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with Wales, the disciplinary, a huge snub, European form, mysterious injuries and a much more suitable use of Twitter than we have become accustomed to…
When Australia pop into Cardiff on the way home from the usual three-week international window in a fortnight's time, it will be to play a match pitting a side looking like it is finally hitting straps against one looking more and more like it is tumbling down a post-prime decline.
You'd be forgiven for confusing the two teams according to that description and the year's results, but make no mistake, Wales are in a deep hole.
Lauded as the unluckiest team at last year's World Cup, having bustled their way to the semi-finals using a brand of rugby as exciting as it was effective, the Welsh have regressed. The half-backs look visionless, Jamie Roberts can't do it all on his own and the scrum is just plain weedy at times.
Whatever the calibre of opposition, and Argentina and Samoa are both top nations in their own right now, one try in two games – an intercept – is a poor rate of return for Grand Slam champions.
But perhaps most disturbing is that they seem limited by tactics where once they used to look empowered to make decisions; hemmed in by thought where once the instinctive skills would have kicked in to make the running count.
Twice on Friday glaring overlaps were ignored in favour of bog standard territorial kicks. A large number of penalties were conceded out of desperation. Not once did the first phase look threatening to anything but the gain line, while the set piece stuttered against a Samoa side renowned for occasional insecurity where the ball is not in open pasture.
Warren Gatland returns to the fold this week but only briefly, before he heads into his B&I Lions role. He has some serious decisions to make. He clearly can't shake things up too much: that already has happened with his 'year as a Lion' contract, but there will be some long evenings with his coaching staff to find out just what the hell has been missing since he slipped off his ladder earlier this year.
Oh, to be a fly on the wall. But observers in Wales will be watching the signs against New Zealand closely. Gatland's influence appears to be critical to this Welsh side, perhaps more so than we all thought. A poor display against the ABs will raise all sorts of questions about the wisdom of letting Gatland take on the dual role, as well as Rob Howley's ability to think tactically and coach constructively. An interesting week awaits…
Once again the disciplinary is under the spotlight for its inconsistency this week, after Rob Simmons was handed – reduced for good previous conduct – a 14-week ban for a tip tackle on Yannick Nyanga.
Meanwhile, Adam Thomson copped a solitary week for an exploratory stud or two reminding Alasdair Strokosch that holding his torso and head over New Zealand's ball is possibly not a good idea.
Thomson's ban was probably the right one. There was no force – Strokosch later admitted there was not even a bruise. Strokosch and Thomson had a bit of banter about it afterwards, including the former jumping to the latter's defence on twitter and reminding the public of one of rugby's good old school rules: anybody blocking a rightful possession of the ball in the ruck is potentially liable for a bit of a shoeing.
People are up in arms about the precedent such leniency sets: “one week for a boot to the head my god” etc etc, but disciplinary panels do take cases in isolation and anybody who has seen the incident must know the difference between Thomson's moment and the frustrated tramplings of a momentary loss of discipline.
But Simmons has been hung out. 14 weeks? That's double what Lote Tuqiri got a few years ago for a tackle which raised gasps of horror at the manner in which Richie McCaw's neck twisted as his head hit the ground (not to mention the crowd-baiting afterwards) and the three weeks given to Sam Warburton for the rush of blood in the World Cup.
Perhaps it is the intention to make a statement with this sentence, but then they should say so in the judgement. A simple line about 'this penalty reflects the new hard line we are taking over such tackles' would at least offer some clarity.
Even more clarity would be offered by a centralised disciplinary system. These bans were handed out by the Six Nations disciplinary, a panel deeply at odds with the precedents set by SANZAR's wigs. The IRB has done much for the game in recent years to get refereeing standards globally up to speed, you'd think they could do the same for the disciplinary panels?
You have to feel sorry for the Welford Road faithful. They make it a doozer of a ground to go to, be they baying home fans or vocal travellers. It's a tight ground, a heavy pitch, a broiling rugby public… it's everything good about England's club game.
The ground was voted England's best rugby ground this week, further enhancing its credentials as one of rugby's most-renowned arenas.
So goodness only knows how the RFU can think that the local soccer stadium will do a better job of hosting World Cup matches, but it's not a good way for England's deeper rugby traditions to be brought to the forefront of the global showpiece.
Harking back to Wales and the European nations, thanks goodness for France! England bullied out by a weak Australia team, Wales crashing at home to Samoa, Scotland fighting with bludgeon rather than sword and Ireland still looking unsure of themselves… but France have lit up this November thus far with some mesmerising rugby. The Six Nations must be theirs for the taking?
USA Rugby's pre-November statement on lock Samu Manoa: “Samu Manoa, an important player for the Eagles, is suffering from a minor shoulder injury and will not participate in the (November) tour”.
Present on the pitch for all 80 minutes of Northampton's match against the Dragons on Saturday, and indeed, all 80 minutes of November 3 clash with Leicester: one Samu Manoa. He did miss the Saints vs Quins game the week on November 10.
American CEO Nigel Melville on the matter: “yes an injury, certainly would have been selected… Regulation 9 doesn't help us! IRB will be taking a look at this after the November internationals – we hope! A debate worth having, Tier 2 Player Release!”
Watch this space…
Twitter… if you've followed this column, you'll know we don't like it. But when it's used to broadcast good news or for some genuine humour, we realise it does have its worth.
Have a look at the picture accompanying this column and then pair it with Nick Evans' triumphant tweet of 'we're pregnant!' and perhaps allow yourselves a good hearty chuckle…
Loose Pass compiled by Richard Anderson