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Loose Pass

16th October 2012 08:10

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Mixed bag: Round 1 of the Heineken Cup had some highs and lows

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with the Heineken Cup, loving your enemies, the price of identity and some rugby in the provinces...

Ok, so it's hard to see all the games. With some on at the same time, others only covered by some channels in some places, you just don't get the overview and despite Sky's very best efforts, the highlights program doesn't really give a full picture. And being honest, I missed much of Saturday's action for reasons shortly to be revealed.

But was it just us or was this weekend a little flat? Saracens strolling to a 45-0 win in Edinburgh? The Scarlets turned pale in Clermont? Treviso, Montpellier, Biarritz and Castres humbled on the road?

There were a couple of belters too - Munster's defeat to Racing and Sale's win over Cardiff were the pick of the bunch while Toulouse's win over Leicester was classic intense European fare, but it does seem this year that the gap between the haves and have-nots is a little wider than it used to be.

Which is rendered all the more interesting when you note that three of the six mentioned teams are perhaps three who would be culled should ERC opt to make qualification more merit-based from the Pro D12 in the next European deal, while two of the others are those who would often cite the need for Top 14 success as being of more importance to them than the Heineken Cup.

Again, I didn't see it all. So I am prepared to stand corrected. But looking at the results and the one-sidedness of some of the games, ERC might do very well to examine their current format and tweak the tiers as has been proposed, lest the group stages start becoming too much in the way of formalities.


Heartwarming stuff from South Africa this week, where it seems that the All Blacks extended a warm welcome to the walking wounded from the week before.

Australian fly-half Berrick Barnes, who punctured a lung against South Africa and was stuck in the rainbow nation until able to jump on a plane home was adopted by the visiting All Blacks, with Barnes being nursed by the AB medical staff and performing some team duties - many of them involving driving a golf cart - in return, all the while staying in the All Blacks' team hotel.

More surprisingly, given the current penchant for secrecy and planning, Barnes was a frequent spectator at training. He was also a guest of honour at the nines and tens dinner.

It's good to know that the friendship spirit of rugby still endures...


Less heartwarming in New Zealand was the reaction to the news that AIG - they of Manchester United fame - would become only the second sponsor name ever to be emblazoned across All Black breasts from November onwards.

Disgrace, disgusting, disappointing, disrespectful... there's been no end of the dissing of the Kiwi hierarchy this week, much of the vitriol aimed squarely at Steve Tew.

Well, it's not great, and you have to admire the All Blacks for having held out so long.

But how else could they realistically have got the money they need? For the past four years they've ben able to survive off the World Cup, but that cash cow has now thundered over to England's pastures green to deliver her milk.

Even with that World Cup cash, the NZRU still had to draw up some of the most creative central contracts ever seen to make sure they were able to pay less than, but still live with, the Perpignans, Toulouses and Saracens of the rugby world. That Dan Carter and Richie McCaw are the best-paid All Blacks is common knowledge, less common knowledge is that the contract amount last announced was about half the value of Jonny Wilkinson's Toulon gross (the RWC bonus might have balanced that out a bit).

Lest we forget, while this was all happening, Otago - already struggling on limited NZRU assistance - were days away from ceasing to exist altogether. There was a time - even this year - where it was not even clear if Steve Hansen's coaching staff was going to be affordable to the All Blacks where it would have been to others.

So it's not a great thing to happen, but it was inevitable. If the New Zealand public has any sense, they should first wait and see where that money goes. Steve Tew has done a tremendous job overall for the NZRU, is it not worth perhaps trusting that this is a part of a bigger plan?


Not much Heineken Cup? Well, your faithful correspondent was invited to Frankfurt, attending the game between Germany and the New Zealand Ambassador's Select XV, where the Germans were warming up for a forthcoming clash against the Ukraine.

In front of about 3,000 hardy souls, the Germans sneaked a fortunate 22-20 win, riding their luck in the final ten minutes as Ambassador's XV fly-half Tim Manawatu - whose brother Kieran scored a scorching try for the Germans - missed three kicks at goal.

But this was a quality game. Germany may be ranked 31st in the world but there was no denying the pace, organisation and skill on show at times, nor the quality of their opposition, most of whom were ITM Cup standard players.

Even more revealing was the curtain-raiser, an U21 clash between the north and south of Germany of a quality at times superior to the international match.

Yet it was also a little disappointing to note that Germany's try-scorers were Kieran Manawatu and Pieter Jordaan, while their 8-9-10 axis was composed of Rob May, Sean Armstrong and Raynor Parkinson.

Two weeks ago a colleague on this site opened up the debate of how long the IRB three-year-residency rule would remain something truly desirable or necessary. We're not sure either...


Finally, staying in the provinces and heading down the ranks to the high eighties, Norway may not yet be doing such a great line in rugby teams, but few who have been there will forget the ladies...

Well now we have the best of both!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iHiH_LQgE1w&feature=youtu.be

Loose Pass compiled by Richard Anderson

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