Planet Rugby

Loose Pass

24th June 2013 10:18

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SKY_MOBILE Alex Cuthbert George North - Lions 1st Test

Tough job done well: Lions wings

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with the Lions debrief, TV refs and the Junior World Championship...

What a pulsating start to the Lions' Test series! Four wonderful tries, bags of tension, a last-gasp kick to win it and a massive sackful of refereeing decisions to argue over. Could it have been any better?

Talking points started early on with Chris Pollock's ruck interpretations. A great deal was made by the B&I commentators about Pollock being a 'typically southern hemisphere' referee and that this was causing Brian O'Driscoll - and his team-mates - the problems at breakdowns early on.

Two things to say about that: firstly, the IRB has supposedly gone to significant lengths to make sure that referees are supposed to be refereeing the same way around the globe come what may. So there really should not be stereotype referees around anymore. But there are, and it is has been drastically affecting the games we have seen over June. Pollock's scrum management on Saturday left a lot to be desired - the front rows were so close on the 'touch' call that not one was ever going to be able to set himself with a straight back.

But secondly, it has to be down to the players to respond. Whatever Pollock was not on Saturday, he was consistent. For BOD to concede a second kickable penalty not two minutes after the first for the same offence was poor game and referee management for one so experienced, as was his plaintive: "look at the replay" after Pollock explained himself. How to not get a referee on your side...

Eventually, the Lions did respond, but the delay could have cost them dearly.


Saturday's Test also confirmed that this is an age of the winger as the main strike weapon. All four tries came from wings in their different guises: acting as second full-back and counter-attacking, coming off the wing and into the line, and simple speed and finishing skills.

With the winger and full-back roles more and more overlapped, the winger is no longer just the fastest bloke on the team, to whom the ball must be given in space. He's an extra centre, an extra full-back, the smaller, nippier ones are often used as extra scrum-halves. Only the players who can master all those skill-sets become world-class wingers. It's becoming one of the hardest positions in world rugby to fill properly, but on Saturday we had four of them, making the game brilliant to watch.


The video referee was perhaps the busiest of all officials this weekend. Nearly every try was up for review in the Lions Test, while South Africa and Samoa's match was riddled with demands for replays from the video referee by Pascal Gauzère.

The extension in TMO powers seemed like a possible good idea at the time, but now more than ever it's starting to wreck the game's momentum. It surely would not have taken much initiative to see Alesana Tuilagi's body angle and single arm, see Jean de Villiers' falling angle with his head snapped back, and conclude that something was awry. Instead, everybody got repeated views of a truly poor tackle - many more than there were reviews of good tackles made in the game.

Nor should it have been that hard to decide upon the validity of Alex Cuthbert's try or Israel Folau's. The only decision we found worthy of the upstairs question was George North's attempt at a second try, which video replays showed quite quickly not to be valid. And even then, with the obvious answer clear in most minds we saw the same slew of replays from all the same angles once again.

Saturday's Test match took a couple minutes shy of two hours. Even allowing for the injuries, which were many, this is an inordinately long time for a game of rugby.

The extension of the TMO powers to adjudicate on the entire phase leading up to the try is a yes. All the other bits are a no for us. Too much time is spent on parts of the game that don't benefit the spectators, too little time is spent playing or watching the actual rugby. A shame, for there really was a lot of that this weekend.


The future of rugby is bright indeed though, after enjoying another enthralling Junior World Championship this past fortnight. It was nearly turning out to be a great weekend to be Welsh, with all the Lions' points coming from the Welsh back three and the Juniors up at half-time against England.

It was not to be. Congratulations to England, who found the right way to turn the screw and showed huge maturity and fitness in their comeback win over Wales, but congratulations to Wales too, who appear to have unearthed some real gems for the future in that U20 team. Congratulations to the referee as well, who was better than all the Test referees of the weekend put together. It was a fantastic tournament.


Finally, we look ahead to the second Test in Melbourne, which is where the coaches will really earn their keep. Injuries are taking their toll on the squads, with Robbie Deans in particular facing a crisis after losing possibly five first-choice back-line players to a mixture of injury and arrest.

Meanwhile, Warren Gatland will have to make do without the leadership of Paul O'Connell in the pack, on top of possibly losing a third loosehead prop. It's going to be an intriguing week of switches and tactical adjustments.

What else should happen this week? Well, here's a checklist:

1) More analysis of the referee and his breakdown preferences before the games.

2) New boots with long studs for Australian goal-kickers

3) Someone to be assigned to Will Genia in much the manner Ben Mowen was clearly assigned to Mike Phillips.

4) Israel Folau to be given more ball in space. What an athlete!

5) A second Test every bit as good as the first please!

Loose Pass compiled by Richard Anderson

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