Planet Rugby

Loose Pass

11th February 2013 06:50

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Scotland v Italy Stuart Hogg dives try

Scotland: Led the way with four tries over the weekend

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with the Six Nations, turf, Mourad Boudjellal and a little Lions nostalgia...

One week, that's all it took. One week of daring to dream that the northern hemisphere had turned a corner and was going to provide a tournament echoing its southern counterpart. One week it took for the assorted coaches to gather, think a bit, and then spend their interim time on making sure that none of last week's tries were echoed rather than look for ways to keep the momentum going.

As a result, we had six tries altogether in three games, four of them from Scotland. You know it's come to something when you are set to rave about Scotland as an international weekend's star turn. We couldn't remember more than one time when the whitewash at either end was seriously threatened at the Aviva, while there was only one time it was threatened in Paris too. Fortunately for Wales, the threat was realised.

The weather played a part to be sure, but there was clear evidence that the tacticians of the respective teams had shut down any attacking desire. Wales ignored open spaces wide and deep on many occasions, as did England. Ireland were so awful that had they tried to get the ball out they may well have failed to do so, Italy were moving outside at half the speed they were last week. France were moving at the same speed they did last week, which was about half of Italy's. Only Scotland, with Sean Maitland growing into his role and Matt Scott a real prospect, looked like they had spent a week running some actual handling moves.

But it was the sheer amount of kicking which was so disappointing. England and France especially have some of the best steppers and carriers in the game, but just don't seem to be prepared, tactically, to use them.

The quality of the kicking was also dire. Coaches need to set targets for their players at kicking plays, need the team to understand why they are kicking, need to impress upon the players a minimum acceptable standard for a kick to gain. Our guess is that a good 50 per cent of the time this weekend, players kicked because... well, because they were in a certain position on the pitch and that was what they were told to do. Not to do something specific with the kick, just to kick. Get the bloody ball somewhere else.

A shame. Last weekend we saw what Europe is capable of. The next step has to be seeing what it is capable of on a regular basis.


Something else we'd like to see on a regular basis is pitches which don't ruck up like rugs on a stone floor at the mere sight of a scrum. The Millennium Stadium's pitch's woes have been long-documented, the Stade de France now joins the ranks of shame.

It is beyond comprehensible that the finest facilities a country has to offer simply are not able to host what they are set up to host, what millions of Euros are ploughed into making sure they can host. Don't even get us started on the safety issue. Adam Jones was pretty well dismantled at scrum time, but the pitch let him down on many an occasion - and just imagine if someone's Lions dream had disappeared down a Parisian divot.

French rugby has problems on the pitch in every way right now.


Possibly off it too, although we're taking a pinch of salt with Mourad Boudjellal's latest outpouring.

The Top 14's person voted least likely to call a spade an earth-moving implement has, after what has been a welcome silence, once again hopped on his soapbox and had a good rant, this time on the subject of paying wages to internationals who miss a quarter of the season for international duty.

Which is vaguely understandable... except that let's have a look at those internationals Boudjellal's knickers are so twisted about. Gethin Jenkins, Jocelino Suta, Mathieu Bastareaud, Fred Michalak, and Maxime Mermoz, (there were also two Georgians missing from Toulon this weekend) none of whom have exactly been developed by Toulon's academy.

Boudjellal can moan all he wants, but frankly, having chosen to spend a huge stack of cash on signing seasoned internationals, he must have known what he was letting himself in for. No sympathy here - there is less and less for him in any situation the more he rants anyway.

What was really weird was Toulon's capitulation in Bordeaux though. Ok, they are missing seven players and one or two to injury as well. But that was still a team containing Rudi Wulf, Matt Giteau, Jonny Wilkinson, Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, Bakkies Botha and Andrew Sheridan. with Joe van Niekerk, Alexis Palisson and Carl Hayman on the bench just in case.

41-0 down at one of the league's bottom teams? Something doesn't add up there.


Finally, it's Lions year, so we're going to take you back a bit.... to 1997. A scene from that epic video 'Living with Lions' is still talked about wistfully in bars today, with forwards of all ages especially remembering the epic speech delivered by Jim Telfer.

No idea what we are on about? Have a look here.

Sixteen years on.... he's still got it. Even if the calibre of the recipients is not what it was...have a look here.

Loose pass compiled by Richard Anderson

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