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Loose Pass

21st October 2013 10:25

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Mourad Boudjellal arms crossed

Not happy: Mourad Boudjellal

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with Mourad Boudjellal, Rory Kockott and Israel Dagg - among others...

As if the wasps' nest that currently represents the Heineken Cup future needed a little extra stick and twist.

It's a mark of how acrimonious and dumbfounding the furore about Europe's future has been that we've been able to get this far without even missing Mourad Boudjellal. But once he's back, you truly know you are in a acrimonious slanging match worthy of only the very least talented Australian soapie scriptwriter.

In case you were one of the ones intelligent enough to skip Boujellal's rant last week and keep minds on what was another excellent weekend of action first, here's a catch-up on the latest installment:

"In the face of these despicable practices, which are racist and conservative, the club will take part in the Heineken Cup next season since the ERC does not have quotas on foreign players, contrary to the LNR's ruling."

Identity cards for ethnic minorities? A ban on Burkas in the Felix-Mayol? Well no... the 'racist practice' Boujellal refers to is the latest set of measures from the Top 14 governing body LNR to ensure that French club teams - in a dramatic break from modern tradition - actually start fielding French players and grooming young French talent internally. There will be limits on foreign players per team in the Top 14 and financial incentives to clubs that maintain a squad of more than 55 percent of players that graduate from French rugby academies by 2017.

55 per cent is hardly draconian and four years is hardly a suffocating timeline. But for a President who has spent millions on a squad containing only nine French players in Saturday's matchday squad, it's a bit of a blow.

So Boujellal - and by extension, Toulon - is breaking ranks from the LNR's plan to jump into the Rugby Champions Cup and will now play in the Heineken Cup... well, as it stands, the Pro D2 with Toulon.

This hardly has an impact on the negotiations over Europe's future. Unions and bodies will do things with or without Toulon - if a side-effect of whatever decisions end up being made is to show Boujellal how irrelevant he is in the game's governance, then it will be the first positive to come out of this mess.

But as if we weren't already fully aware, it does show just how badly the European game needs a single governing body, with consistent disciplinary measures, a willingness to ensure competitive integrity in its competitions and a neutral, pure rugby-promoting ideal as its basis. A body like ERC, for example...


Are we missing something? Or is Rory Kockott not worthy of consideration for at least one of the South African scrum-half berths for the November internationals?

The key man in Castres for two seasons - including being scorer of a brilliant and game-turning solo try during last seasons' Top 14 Final, he is soon to turn eligible for France, who are hardly short of talented scrum-halves at the moment.

South Africa are, and even more importantly, they are short of good young ones. Fourie du Preez is a good game-marshaller but is not what he once was in speed, while Ruan Pienaar seems to become more lugubrious each time he flies home from Ireland. Kockott is a couple of years younger than both.

Both are players based abroad, so Heyneke Meyer cannot have any foibles about that with Kockott, not least because the Top 14 is considerably better than either RaboDirect PRO12 or the Japanese league. Kockott also has a mean boot from the tee.

It's tempting to feel he blotted his copybook forever during his early days. He was not shy of a needless scrap on the pitch, while off it there were often rumbles of his frustrations as he was continuously overlooked for national recognition. A year in the tempestuous reign of John Mitchell at the Lions didn't help him.

But now? There's evident maturity, hard work and success. He thrives in a league where half-back hunting is a treasured hobby, keeps his head in a country where many lose theirs, continues to win games for Castres almost single-handed. Surely he is worth a chance?


While on the subject of those in form and deserving of recognition, the subject of IRB Player of the year nominations popped up in banter during the Australia-New Zealand clash, not least because it was the moment Israel Dagg shredded the Wallaby backs on a directional change and set up another blistering All Black try.

It's unlikely the winner will come from anywhere other than New Zealand really, although Leigh Halfpenny, Alun-Wyn Jones, Paul O'Connell, Jean de Viliers, Eben Etzebeth, Francois Louw, Louis Picamoles and Israel Folau might get some kind of nomination or consideration.

But New Zealand's form facts speak for themselves. Both Dagg and Kieran Read are long overdue even a nomination, with a couple of ill-timed injuries costing the latter. Sam Whitelock, Conrad Smith and Liam Messam also deserve recognition, while Ben Smith surely takes international newcomer.

With Richie McCaw having missed the first part of the year and Dan Carter injured for a couple of hefty stretches, the usual suspects are out of the running. Read is in pole position in our books, not only with his playmaking and work but for his leadership, while Dagg is a close second just in terms of the consistency of his distinctly above-average talent, now matched by his decision-making.

Any names you'd like to add to the list, or any votes you'd like to cast?

Loose Pass compiled by Richard Anderson

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