Planet Rugby

Loose Pass

19th August 2013 11:34

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Argentina s Patricio Albacete R fights for the ball 2013

Falling form: Argentina

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with the Rugby Championship and a swing of power in France...

OK, we'll confess, we had spent a good deal of time thinking about the new scrum engagement sequence, which perhaps somehow meant we expected something slower with more scrums. But boy was than an apocalyptic start to the Rugby Championship!

A frenetic pace marked both games, with the two victors clearly head and shoulders above their opposition. The All Black-Springbok clashes this year are going to be unmissable, while Australia clearly need more time to build in to Ewen McKenzie. Argentina have trouble ahead.

As far as the scrums go, it was good to see both scrum-halves in Sydney pinged for feeding as well as fewer rests or collapses. It was also good to see the ruck well and strictly managed, which ensured both sides could run the ball properly. They did so, creating a marvelous spectacle. All those who insist that being a part of pro rugby is being 'in the entertainment business' would have been sitting back delightedly.

But it was deeply worrying to watch Argentina capitulate so grimly in Soweto, and it is becoming more and more apparent just how much the Pumas are suffering by having players distributed all over the world rather than playing in Super Rugby.

Beyond those players sprinkled liberally around France and England (for whom right now ought to be some form of pre-season time rather than the mid-season peak of their counterparts) the nearest thing Argentina has to top-level sub-international rugby is the occasional IRB tournament for the Jaguars and the team they pitch in South Africa's Vodacom Cup - so all their most promising non-European based players are only getting experience in the level below that gained by the most promising players of the other three nations.

The most recent announcement concerning Super Rugby was another revamp, another upsize, not only to stop the squabbles in South Africa but also to include two teams from Argentina, perhaps bringing to an end the stream of Pumas' internationals heading to the gruelling European season, then looking sluggish as they try and play through the Southern Hemisphere Test season too.

This cannot happen soon enough. While there were several familiar faces in Puma jerseys Saturday, there were also any number of players who are still playing club rugby in Argentina. A good standard of rugby it is, Super Rugby or Heineken Cup it is not. In the crucial moments, such players were clearly half a yard off the pace on Saturday and it will do Argentina no good at all for this to be continued.


Comedy moment of the weekend came at the Boks' first try, the penalty try awarded against Eusebio Guinazu for the slap-down of the scoring pass.

It's on the start of this reel...when it does happen, check how many decisions Chris Pollock tries to blow in one movement!

Joking aside, we were less impressed with Pollock than with Craig Joubert. There was a lot of playing the ball on the ground, ruckers going off their feet, and for both third and fourth Springbok tries we felt that the ball-carrier detached from the back of the maul before re-joining it...there were a lot of marginal things like this let go and it absolutely played to the hosts' strengths.

There is no question about the result though, nor about South Africa's superiority both physically and tactically. Most notably, the passing was a step up from how it has been and the speed of it all was devastating. The Boks look better than they have done for some time.


A fascinating opening weekend in the Top 14 saw most of the usual suspects snatch narrow wins, a welter of tries, another long season looming for a newly-promoted team and Toulouse finish the weekend in the relegation zone, having lost to a team tipped for a relegation fight.

The team once known as the big red machine has seen its aura of invincibility slowly eroded down the past three years or so. But the sickness which is slowly eating away at the core of the team is that same one which French rugby fans are still muttering darkly to each other about: too many foreign players.

Toulouse coach Guy Noves has talked many times of his preference for signing local but the necessity of imports, simply because the French international players cannot sustain their efforts over Top 14, Heineken Cup, Six Nations et al without being injured or just plain stuffed on a regular basis. Noves recently implored his local international players to pull their socks up publicly and to think of club before country, but privately he has also acknowledged that the French season and the international commitments are too much to balance out for his own internationals. As a result, far fewer local internationals or international prospects arrived in Toulouse this off-season.

Despite the regulations limiting the imports now in place, the number of non-French players in French club rugby still sits far too high. Many a promising youngster is being kept out of top flight by an expensive Kiwi. The national team is certainly suffering as a result, it looks as though the national flagship team may be suffering too.

Loose Pass compiled by Richard Anderson

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