This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with substitutions, philosophies, disciplinaries, and zero-G rugby...
Award for the substitution least likely to make an impact on a match this week goes to Allister Coetzee of the Stormers, who brought on Gerhard van den Heever about seventeen seconds after the 80 minutes were up in his team's 12-6 non-event defeat at the Sharks on Saturday.
What the hell for? Waste time? Erm... well, you are six points down, in your own half, with seventeen seconds to go... probably not.
Impact? Change of pace? Erm... being as the Stormers had almost completely failed to pass the ball beyond the second receiver all night, hardly. Also being as Van den Heever is hardly King Kong, he was not going to be tasked with thundering in off his wing to breakdown the black wall, nor was he ever going to have enough of a feel for the game to dance his way through a half-gap.
So no, there can be no other reason for the change other than Coetzee having some inherent desire to make sure all 22 players got a run, although given that the game was an absolute car crash in terms of running rugby, Van den Heever probably worked up more of a sweat coming onto the field than playing.
It wasn't just the Stormers, mind. Cheetahs coach Naka Drotske brought on his reserve hooker Ryno Barnes with a measly 120 seconds remaining and his team 42 points adrift.
It's difficult to know what might be more of a slap in the face to a player, not getting on at all or being entrusted with about 60 seconds of a lost cause. At least if you don't get on at all you will probably be told: "well I didn't feel you would have made the difference I wanted" or something like that, but to be given any kind of task on a rugby field you'd probably, on average, need a good five minutes, perhaps even ten.
Any coach making a change later than that is just paying token heed to a player's presence, merely doffing cap and saying 'thanks for coming'. Such carrots are not what these players sweat and toil for, nor are they any kind of game experience boost to the paying viewer/punter.
A rule prohibiting token substitutions is too open to misinterpretation to be feasible, but we are calling on the conscience of many a coach here when we say: if you are going to bring a player on, give him a realistic chance, in terms of time, to make his presence felt. If you don't feel he is up to it or that the game is not going to his strengths, tell him so and leave him for another day. Ultimately, he might appreciate the honesty a bit more.
Back to that Stormers-Sharks blight on the Super Rugby landscape: fascinating opposites in philosophies by two men who supposedly once thought the sun shined out of the others' proverbials: Bob Skinstad and Nick Mallett.
Skinstad, never one to let thoughtful observation obstruct the charge down his vocal chords of the first thing that comes into his head, described the miserable, error-laden kickfest as a 'classic derby'.
Mallett meanwhile, coping in the studio with the shower of stutterings from Ashwin Willemse and the cold, tactical slicing of Naas Botha, came up with something along these lines (any errors are down to the fact that we did not record the studio post-match, but the gist is definitely this):
"If we are sitting here and reviewing highlights, and all of those highlights are of crossfield kicks or high balls, then something is wrong. It cannot be that we have two supposedly top teams who can barely string more than three phases together, or have the skills to get two passes out beyond the rucks without making mistakes. If that's the case, we have a serious problem. It's very disappointing."
So, a classic, full of passion, or an over-conservative, skill-less example of what is missing in South Africa right now?
We'll let you decide, but remember this: Lwazi Mvovo and Gio Aplon, two of the country's finest runners with ball in hand, received the ball deep from kicks (or passes from catchers of kicks) about 10-15 times each. We cannot remember Aplon running the ball back once, and Mvovo only twice. The rest of the time they barely looked up before smashing the ball downfield. Isn't that a bit of a waste of runners?
Over to the disciplinaries, where again the tangled web of practices and directives is punishing the innocent and flattering the guilty.
Cian Healy's suspension reduction - he got a week less on the technicality that the suspension should run from the date of the offence rather than the date of the hearing - means he can now take the field against France next weekend, something which you rather feel was clearly not the intention of the judicial officers who handed out the ban in the first place.
So for the love of all things oval, why this ludicrous systems of banning someone for weeks rather than matches? Even soccer has worked out you are banned for a certain number of matches, be that over ten weeks or four, and there is nothing the player can do about it.
Obviously rugby's calendar is fragmented and tournaments overlap.... so simply cover all the matches. A centralised disciplinary system could have banned Healy for two Six Nations matches and two Leinster matches, meaning Healy would have had no grey areas to launch his appeal from.
A centralised disciplinary system... *sigh*. If only.
It couldn't be any worse than the French one. Healy's case was heard five days after his little indiscretion against England, but it will take nearly three weeks for the French judiciary to convene and discuss the possible penalty against the tap-dancing Dimitri Yachvili (have a look at 1:50:45 here.).
Three weeks to get a hearing together? Going on Healy's appeal technicality.... he could serve his ban before the hearing was even convened! He clearly won't - that was an ugly incident - but the French have got their act together in so many ways in the Top 14, this is a glaring hole.
Finally, continuing on the theme started by the Sharks and Stormers of 'way up in the air', three Russian cosmonauts this week played what has to be the first ever game of zero-gravity rugby of all time in the International Space Station, to celebrate their country hosting the draw, and the finals on June 28-30, of this year's Rugby World Cup Sevens.
The three, all keen rugby players, sent this message home:
Also, other observations were noted:
Cosmonaut Oleg Novitsky landed a 240m drop goal with a back-heel
Whoever loses the scrum engagement finds it extremely difficult to push back
Novitsky, clean through and with only one opponent to beat, did so by chipping the ball under his opponent, also laughing heartily as his opponent's attempt to charge the chip down sent him crashing into the control panel...
Loose Pass compiled by Richard Anderson