Planet Rugby

Loose Pass

26th August 2014 06:10

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All Blacks huddle v Wallabies RC 2014

All Blacks: Made our columnist eat humble pie

Welcome to Loose Pass, our weekly assortment of grovelled apologies, begged forgiveness and pleas for clemency. This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with the Rugby Championship action, leveraging and referee relations.

It has not been a good week for your beleaguered columnist. Pilloried by the masses for a gross error in observation last week, the All Blacks - with Richie McCaw leading the charge - piled into my criticism of them last week with gusto, disproving pretty much every word I wrote.

Here's a shining quote for openers: The team as a whole no longer seems to have the zip and derring-do at crucial moments which made it one you feel could score at any moment if it so wished.

Yes, I wrote that. And then I watched with a mixture of awe and worry as the All Blacks played the middle 40 minutes of Saturday's with more zip and derring-do than the Wallabies displayed over both Bledisloe Cup matches this year. They were just mesmerising.

I can't remember - at least until they started missing a couple of tackles when already 30-odd points ahead - them making a mistake.

After I questioned his longevity, Richie McCaw was tackling everything gold and scoring a brace of tries, breaking an impressive number of records in the process.

I also watched the scrum, which I had accused of no longer being 'indomitable', give as accurate an impression of an immovable object as I have seen for some time.

One of the vintage performances. You'd think we would learn by now: never write the All Blacks off.


The other vintage performance of the weekend came from Argentina. In Salta's picturesque setting, with the Andean foothills looming large behind the grandstand, the Argentine pack did a passable impression of one of those mountains, with the Springboks left utterly unable to move it. The backs nipped and sniped, offloaded with breathtaking dexterity at times.

Of course, they did botch it. A lead was thrown away by naivety and inexperience. Two of the tries the Springboks scored were gifts, as was the winning penalty.

But considering what was expected from the Pumas ahead of the tournament, you should be giving enormous credit to the coaching staff, who inherited a squad in a state of limbo and have made it a genuine contender once more.


Those Springboks. It is all very well for them to praise the impact off the bench, but the way the team was outplayed for much of the match does not bode well for the future.

Even the old guard appears to be on the down; how long has it been since you saw a Springbok scrum so thoroughly dismantled? How long since you saw the Boks miss so many tackles?

Lovely though it is that nostalgics can rely upon Victor Matfield to lend a guiding hand, it's becoming more apparent, both through the Super Rugby competition and now during this international Test, that South Africa is still over-reliant on an old guard, while the new guard frequently looks - tactically and skills-wise - half-baked at best.

Damian de Allende is the latest to pull on the green jersey with stacks of potential, yet to have poor decision-making ruthlessly exposed. It could be a long, long winter for Heyneke Meyer.


What the Boks need to emerge is a lock or two in the mould of Brodie Retallick. This is perhaps the most complete second row to play the professional game. He charges into midfield like a centre, displaying hands to match.

Woe betide those who leave their guard down at ruck time, lest they should find the 2m 04, 121kg frame thundering into them. Line-out domination is becoming second nature. Fantastic to watch.


And following up a weekend of fantastic rugby? This strapline: "Premier Rugby has threatened to play rugby during next year's RWC unless a deal can be reached with the RFU".

Are Europe's rugby administrators just pathologically incapable of getting on with it without drama, leveraging, politics and handbags?


Finally, it's an interesting development to have Craig Joubert apologising to those wrongly on the wrong end of his whistle, so to speak - not to mention a further death knell for my observations in this column, grief it has been a rough week - and I did spend a few minutes wondering what on earth it was all about - as did some of you who were good enough to comment on the story, pondering the apology's worth.

Yet I am beginning to think this way: we criticise referees just as vociferously as players. We lambast them for their decision-making, skill and occasional ineffective discharge of their responsibilities.

We do the same for players, who are generally shovelled before the cameras, where blunt questions to a knackered player need to be met with a premeditated mixture of respect to the opposition and admission that the player - or players, as Michael Hooper pointed out on Saturday - just weren't good enough.

Is it so bad if the referees do the same? And - and this was the thought development - would it not be a good idea to grab a referee who just had a superb game, such as Romain Poite on Saturday, and ask him what he thought about it then?

Loose Pass compiled by former Planet Rugby Editor Danny Stephens, who can still taste the humble pie

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