Planet Rugby

Loose Pass

06th May 2014 07:44

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Super format question mark

Super?

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with a right royal mess in Super Rugby, TMO issues and slapping...

Perhaps the biggest aspect to the new Super Rugby format due to start in 2016 is that it is truly the first time that SANZAR have managed to stuff up a tournament so properly.

It was written elsewhere in these pages that 'nobody can deny...the integrity of the competition has been compromised. A couple of sentences afterwards began with 'but', in an effort to somehow see the other side of the argument.

From my side, there is just no other side to see. A competition with compromised integrity is not a good competition, irrespective of the demands and the stakeholders and the politics and goodness-knows-what.

This is supposed to be the premier Southern Hemisphere competition, between the best players from the best countries. Instead we have a contrived mish-mash of concepts rolling in on the gruesome front of South African political meddling.

There isn't much more to say. SANZAR have attempted to make everyone happy with this, with the inevitable high probability that nobody will be happy. Except the Kings of course. They always get what they want.


Exeter v Harlequins was a fine example of a game on Sunday. Good, largely positive rugby, some creative moves from the training ground, one or two moments of exceptional skill, a bit of controversy and a one-point comeback victory that left us all guessing to the end.

Of course, that end came significantly later than the anticipated 15:35. Why? Because referee Andrew Small - and his two assistants - just could not find it within themselves to back their eyes, ears and powers of observation and make enough independent decisions.

Harlequins and Leicester's slugfest took almost two hours last week because of the TMO time.

It's not as if these referrals are always getting to the bottom of the matter either - you see little bits of off-the-ball shenanigans and some of us scream 'off with his head', while others watch the whistle blow and greet it with howls of derision: 'how can he be penalised for that' and 'man up' and on and on it goes. You get clarity for what has happened, but rarely do you eliminate the debate.

More on shenanigans in a moment by the way.

The very best referees - Wayne Barnes provided the best example recently when awarding the try to Simon Zebo against Toulon - are the ones who are a) getting into good positions quickly and b) intently watching what happens as a result. Referees are taught a lot about positioning, and for good reason: the better the positioning by a legal ruck or maul, the better you can see what's happening.

Meanwhile assistant referees, who used so often to be the eyes and ears in the back of the referee's head, have become mere flag-bearers, extra voices clamouring for a video replay to alleviate the worry of a possible wrong call.

Since the TMO was given the additional powers, many referees have been quite obviously using him as a point of first resort rather than the recommended last.

It's quite possible that this has a lot to do with the attitude of the 'I-know-betters' in the media or in the stands, particularly the Bath lot that pushed Christian Day to condemn their actions on Twitter, but there has to be a drive now to both bestow upon referees the requisite mental toughness that gets them to trust their eyes and a much stiffer appraisal of the TMOs themselves. For the camera has not always been better than the eyes of those watching, has it?


Finally - and apologies for a shorter than average LP this week, I will be back with a vengeance next week I promise - how much ludicrous off-the-ball stuff have these TMOs been picking up recently?

Go back to that Exeter-Quins game and the incident in the second half where Kyle Sinckler suddenly rocketed up from the ground and set about swinging his handbag with fury at Ben White after a ruck.

Assistant saw nothing - there's a shock - and so off to the TMO we go. And after around four minutes of replay, review and resuscitation we finally found out that Sinckler's hissy fit was a reaction to White giving him a playful little slap around the chops on the ground.

White ended up being penalised, which is a terrific decision. And maybe it should not stop there.

There was a lot of talk among the posters below about the niggly tactics of hanging around on the wrong sides of rucks for no good reason, lazy running around jumping catchers and the like. Shirt-pulling, holding people down on the ground after tackling.... how long before nipple-crippling and chinese burns enter the fray?

Would a few yellow cards dished out for being a cynical wind-up prat not stop much of this almost immediately?

Either that, or drop the TMO so we don't have to see it and concentrate on the rugby. There was some cracking stuff all over the world this weekend.

Loose Pass compiled by former Planet Rugby Editor Danny Stephens

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