Loose Pass

28th Jan 2014, 09:00

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Top 14: More quantity and quality

Top 14: More quantity and quality

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with a bizarre statistic, the Welsh situation and the return of our favourite game...

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with a bizarre statistic, the Welsh situation and the return of our favourite game...

A chance stop off in Paris this week led us to the pages of France's fine sporting paper L'Equipe and the reviews of the Top 14.

Naturally, you'd expecting a wave of positivity during the dawn of the new multimillion Euro Canal+ sponsorship deal, three teams once again having made the Heineken Cup quarter-finals and the national team gearing up to set a few records from last year's Six Nations well and truly straight. Instead, the headlines were being made by the vast number of players not playing rugby this weekend.

It was a hundred. That number included the 23 players contractually excused from action on the basis of their being kept pretty ahead of Le Crunch next weekend, but even then: 77 players across 14 teams injured was a number that pleased the columnists in France not at all - one openly questioned the sanity of Canal+ for paying so much money for a product that, in reality, was not entirely what it is cracked up to be in terms of the actual talent on pitches each weekend. After all, you are talking about an average of half of every single team missing, should the injury trends continue throughout the Six Nations. And that's not accounting for the likelihood of subsequent injuries.

"We're not going to put out a B side, we're going to put out what is left for us," explained Toulouse assistant coach Jean-Baptiste Elissalde who was facing the press in lieu of Guy Novès - a man doubtless tired of facing the same questions.

Montpellier and Clermont were hit the hardest with 9 injured each, while Stade Francais, Clermont and Toulouse all had 13 absentees including those on duty at Marcoussis. Needless to say, both Toulouse and Clermont came croppers, while Stade had the good fortune to play a financially less capable Castres team also shorn of nine players. Castres were smashed.

Many coaches have complained in the past about the brutally long season inflicted upon French clubs, who might end up playing 34 matches in a reasonably successful season, a good month's worth more than their Heineken counterparts. Now it seems the press is also looking critically at the fixture pile-up and asking what can be done. But in the meantime, as the article - and previously Novès - pointed out, you can expect the influx of foreign players in France to continue out of necessity rather than just desire.




The resolve of the Welsh regions will in the next few days be tested to the full.

Sam Warburton's signature on Wales' first central contract is, in theory, as much a victory for common sense as it is for the WRU. Not two weeks ago it was obvious the WRU had to look at what they needed to get out of the Euro mess and how they intended to get it, rather than going for broke and getting everything.

Warburton's contract is exactly that: Wales' captain, signed and sealed and ready to stay in Wales for a decent WRU salary, while a load of salary space is freed up for Cardiff Blues. All the Blues have to do is allow the WRU to manage their player. It's hardly rocket science: New Zealand have been doing it for yonks.

But in which competition? That is where the problems lie. The WRU will manage their player, but only in the WRU-sanctioned competitions. That means no breakaway league with the English, a league from which the revenue might have been enough to allow the Blues to offer Warburton a 'market value' contract, as Warburton's agent put it. At the very least, it might have been enough to allow the Blues to top up Warburton's contract and give him something approaching the ludicrous money on offer in France.

The fact the WRU is not budging on European competition is the one that most rankles with the regions, who feel that their independence is being eroded. The fans, as was made apparent on a TV debate screened last week, identify more with that than with the WRU's point of view. These are, at heart, tribal people after all. But to stick steadfastly to their guns when the national team captain has signified what he feels is best for a player in all this mess is to take a very narrow view.

Instead, they could see it thus: Warburton's signature could the start of a compromise, one which might benefit Wales massively. Say the WRU were to sign several players to these contracts but allow the Welsh regions to join the English breakaway and grab some extra revenue... that is win-win. The regions get their cash and better squads, the WRU keeps its talent local and manages it well, and an Anglo-Welsh league for the regions needs no dressing up.

Yet even despite Warburton's move, there remains a bitter power struggle between tribes desperate for ultimate victory. As with most models of all-out war, there are set to be few survivors. The ones who do survive will likely be the ones who flee to France.




Super Rugby is around the corner, which heralds the return of our favourite fantasy rugby game.

Testrugby.com's stats-based game has made its return, with the bidding already open for your squads. Your skills of financial management, statistical analysis and penchant for the occasional flyer pick are all tested to the full.

But we'll admit, the initial steps into it can be intimidating... so starting next week, LP will start reviewing some of the most pertinent statistics, trends and individual players within the game to give you guys a little leg-up.

So don't delay! Head in and sign up... and then let us mentor you through your season!

Loose Pass compiled by Richard Anderson