Welcome to Loose Pass, our weekly collection of tactical tweaks, inspired substitutions and pre-rehearsed game-breakers. This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with savage irony, accountability and some praise where it is due...
The mocker gods are still laughing.
Not one working week after I write a long paragraph insisting that referees stop using the TMO as a cushy option rather than trusting their eyes, we end up with Saracens' - and new Germany international - Justin Melck shown a straight red for a hand across the mouth of Neil Briggs administered with no more pressure than I might administer to my three-year-old's chops after a vigorous easter egg session.
A red card given without recourse to the TMO which said TMO would surely have refuted.
Anyway, leaving aside the irony, and despite the obvious disappointment felt by Melck and company, this is a good thing in the long term. Why?
A TMO referral might have cleared it all up, but the touch judge was adamant and the referee felt compelled to back his team-mate up without recourse to the TMO.
Good teamwork, and good on them for backing their own eyes. Wrong, yes. Decisive, measured and correctly executed, also yes. Few coaches don't tell talented players to back themselves, referee coaches should not be any different. If the official backs himself and gets it wrong, he'll be given a few more practice games to keep backing himself and get it right. He ought to grow more in confidence and competency from that process than he will from being bullied into going to the video ref every time.
The people responsible for making an errant call will now be asked about what happened, and they'll get feedback and become better officials for it. Or they don't and they end up having been found wanting at a crucial moment and unable to learn from it, and will not be officiating a top-level game again soon, also good for the top-level game if you think about it. But surely it is better for an official to learn the gravity of his errors and to think about how he could make his observations better than it is for him to become an expert buck-passer? That's what players do every week, why would it be different for officials?
Meanwhile, Melck's red card will surely be overturned and he'll be left with a stainless character - rugby's citing and review system is good like that. The game proceeded as a game does, and a good one it was too. Eight tries, a close finish and some fine rugby by both sides.
Everyone got on with the sport, everyone has the chance to go back to the video and reflect and learn, the fans got a nice dose of controversy to talk about and all the players and officials have something tangible to take away from it all. A good Saturday out, no?
While on the subject of the TMO though: comment of the week last week from Mr. David Bailey on the over-usage of the TMO:
We've been debating the TMO situation too and the conclusion in our house is to get rid of the TMO.
1) The ref makes the calls based on his own eyes with input from assistants.
2) Give each team 3 jokers that force the ref to review the incident. Once you're out, tough.
3) Only the ref sees the replay and only has 90 secs to review it too. That is plenty of time for him to see every angle a couple of times and if it's not clear then the original call stands. There's plenty of time wasted going backwards and forwards between the ref and TMO, just give the ref control and he can look at what he wants. The TMO can be a bloke with a tablet who runs on with it for the ref.
4) There is always going to be a time when the ref will want to have a look at the replays (mad busy period or play/major injuries) so I guess we need an exceptional circumstances clause but the principle should be no replays.
As for the handbags, get the TMO to review the game after the final whistle; issue sanctions at leisure and make it a big enough penalty to make people think twice.
Let players accumulate stupidity points over the course of the season and win a match ban once they hit certain levels.
Couldn't agree more with it all. Three challenges per team per match, referee with a private screen and 90 seconds per challenge, more punitive measures and less mitigation rubbish. Fewer and shorter breaks in play yet clarity for teams at crucial moments. Honesty and accountability everywhere. Excellent.
Moving over to France, it is absolutely now the responsibility of someone to throw the book at Guy Novès and Toulouse for the Florian Fritz fiasco.
It's been discussed elsewhere on the site, but this video clip I found on Monday was the most damning yet. Not just how Fritz looked as he came off the field, but, had Goscinny and Uderzo been picture-booking how Fritz looked as he came back on, there would have been songbirds, stars and candles whirring above his bloodied brows all the way. This was not a man fit to re-enter a top flight rugby match. It was barely a man fit to enter a bath without a steadying hand.
Check it out:
The questions now hang in the air: who will be throwing the book? What book should be thrown? Lots of bodies have made lots of noises, lots of qualified people have condemned Novès' actions, but who is going to be the person to insist Toulouse take accountability and face a punitive measure for setting a dreadful example to all?
This is the time for the governing body, the people in charge of the global game, to stand up for the concussion protocols and principles we heard so much bluster about not twelve months ago, and to charge the Toulouse administration for gross negligence pertaining to the well-being of their players - essentially, bringing the game into disrepute.
Failure to do anything about this will set the efforts at improving player safety and injury management back years. We watch the aftermath of this with interest.
Debate time: leave your comments below on this article about the IRB not changing the three-year residency rules, and the best will be debated next week.
Finally, it is said there is no such thing as the perfect game from a team. A few years ago, Bath - I think - came close with as flawless a half of rugby as I can remember (against Saracens maybe? Help me...) but left the perfect performance in the changing rooms at half-time. New Zealand have come close a few times.
And now add to that list the Crusaders. Not a whole game, but their 25 minutes after the break against the Reds, during which they racked up an unanswered 31 points, was as excellent a spell of rugby as I have seen for years. It is not going to answer the question of whether the most talented roster in New Zealand rugby is under-performing overall or not, but this is what it is capable at its best. Hats off to all.
Loose Pass is compiled by former Planet Rugby Editor Danny Stephens