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Loose Pass

16th July 2013 06:11

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George Smith injury Australia v Lions 3rd Test

Worrying: Concussion tests

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with Australia's future, fallen stars, concussions and bizarre outbursts...

The baton is passed. Ewen McKenzie will finally get the shot he has unashamedly publicly been craving at restoring the Wallabies' pride.

Robbie Deans shuffles off with a big black and blue bruise to his ego; one of the most interesting sub-plots to the aftermath of the Wallabies' Lions defeat is where Deans might end up next. Smart bucks have been placed on a few months tending to the garden, followed by a trip to Clermont-Ferrand...

Anyway, back to McKenzie, for his is the more pressing occurrence. Firstly, he will reinstate Quade Cooper. Secondly, he will doubtless spend a good deal of time shoring up the Australian scrum. Thirdly, he may opt to sit down with a choice few personnel (and here we also touch on the fallen stars) including the likes of Kurtley Beale, James O'Connor and Cooper and lay down a few ground rules.

There is little doubt McKenzie has been very good for Cooper. The fly-half might not be quite as explosive and wild as of old - ACL injuries will do that to you - but McKenzie appears to have at least added a measuring edge to Cooper's game, a balance ensuring Cooper reads the game better and chooses his moments a little more.

Off the pitch, Cooper is better behaved now too. Clearly being older helps, but this is a young man who was looking at oblivion a couple of years ago, who is now either significantly improved off the field or a lot better at keeping it out of the limelight. Whether McKenzie used his likely accession to the Wallabies post as motivation for the ostracised Cooper or not may never be revealed, but it's tough not to perceive that McKenzie would have said: "be patient, our time will come" as motivation to Cooper many times over the past few months. How their relationship is perceived by others in the camp could be quite important for McKenzie's initial reception by the squad.

So Cooper has been patient, but now he is set to enter the camp once more, a camp he described as 'toxic' before Deans cut him loose completely. What exactly was toxic was tough to speculate on at the time, but in hindsight that could easily have started with O'Connor and Beale: the latter in counselling to get over his alcohol problems and now without a team, the former such a playboy that no team wants him in it, not even when he is one of the best in the country.

Rampant super-egos, wafery front rows, controversial figures and only a month to get the squad in shape for the toughest international tournament in the world. No wonder Deans got tired.

McKenzie has coveted this job so hard that it has been undermining at times for Deans, merely shameless at others. Now he gets his go. He had better live up to his promises - it's a huge job.


One of the names unlikely to be on McKenzie's list any time soon is that of George Smith, who has called time on his Test career once again after adding another three caps to take his tally to 111.

His last appearance in a Wallaby jersey this time was nowhere near the level of his last last appearance, mainly because he was a thorough mess after bashing bonces with Richard Hibbard early on.

"It obviously affected me. You saw me snake dancing off the field. I passed the (concussion) tests that were required within those five minutes and I got out there," he said.

What on earth are those concussion tests then? Smith could neither walk nor see straight as he left the fray. There are bangs on the head which daze for a few seconds and there are hammer blows that make your brain bleed. Smith's was quite obviously the latter. Isn't there a common sense concussion test that states: 'if the subject, one minute after the blow, is walking as though he has sunk a gallon of mead, it is potentially medically unwise to allow him back into the midst of an elite level contact sport'.

Even the NFL is beginning to wake up to the effects of repeated or untreated concussions and is preparing some significantly more stringent sideline tests - this is in a sport where they still argue that helmet-to-helmet hitting ought not to be outlawed.

In an age of medical enlightenment and where supposedly no dollar is spared in ensuring player welfare, to allow a player back onto the field in that state is verging on criminally negligent. Concussion tests need re-thinking, and fast.


Finally, what could it be that gave you a mediocre season in which you felt unable to match the best? Could it be the ageing senior members of the playing squad? An out-of-form fly-half? Injuries? Dull tactical choices which nullified your attacking threats from anything other than kicks? perhaps even the improved quality of the opposition?

Well no, not if your are the Stormers coach. Apparently, if you finish mid-table, it is because the fixture list is just a little bit too hard.

"I've seen a provisional fixture list for next season and on tour we have the Crusaders, Chiefs, Brumbies and Reds, which is crazy. We're definitely going to lodge a complaint about it," said Allister Coetzee after the Stormers slumped to seventh overall this year.

What a load of cobblers. If you are the best team, or aim to be the best team, it will not matter who you play because you will beat them anyway. What is supposed to happen - a round robin against all the easy teams and then home fixtures during the play-offs just for your convenience?

The Kings made a similar statement at the start of this season, which sounded like pre-emptive mitigation for finishing bottom of the table. You can blame inexperience for that. But for an established play-off contender like the Stormers/Coetzee to bemoan a tough fixture list for failure is pathetic.

Loose Pass compiled by Richard Anderson

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