Planet Rugby

Loose Pass

09th December 2013 10:33


Loose pass Euro Read Mandela

Europe: not the same without England - Read: The best ever?

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with Europe - the good and the bad - the best, and our own words of sorrow...

In case you missed it, the columns of PR contained a review of the idiocy surrounding all things European club competition. Have a squizz here.

In case you also missed it, pretty much all 24 clubs involved this weekend served up a monumental reminder of what we paupered paying punters are no longer going to be able to enjoy if the suits at Premier Rugby get their way - and their cash.

Starting with the frantic intensity of Cardiff v Glasgow, burning on through the brilliance of Harlequins, Leinster and Clermont, rising to a crescendo in Munster's annihilation of Perpignan and Connacht's extraordinary achievement in Toulouse before the fanfare finale of the eight-try extravaganza in Leicester, this weekend of Heineken Cup action was classic fare.

The best bit? All the smarting beaten teams get the chance to put it all right on home turf next weekend... just imagine the Aime-Giral baying for revenge, Toulouse's big black-and-red machine marching towards the Sportsground and the Montpellier fans hoping their team escapes the last-chance saloon at home to Leicester...

Now that the French have decided to do the decent thing and at least remain committed to a pan-European competition for one more year, giving all parties a bit of time to come up with something coherent (and, perhaps, time for the Premier Rugby plan to fall as flat as it now sounds), we do at least have hope for next season. A competition without the English and French would have been a no-hoper, without the English is not great, but it is semi-palatable.

The news will have been a tremendous boost to Wales, who can now be a little more concrete in their planning for what to do with their best players in the knowledge that there will be a viable European compeititon next season. Sam Warburton and Leigh Halfpenny may yet be able to stay. Ireland's HR office will also have bulged at the walls with a sigh of relief. Those in Scotland and Italy will have positively blown out.

Meanwhile, England's clubs look desperately isolated. They remain committed to a now appallingly hollow-sounding Rugby Champions Cup, one which sponsors BT has been noticeably absent in commenting about. It's definitely not the product they committed the money to though. The impetus is now elsewhere and Premier Rugby's greedy suits have only themselves to blame.

Hope now springs. Let the English do what they want. Intriguingly though, Premier Rugby Chief Mark McCafferty has always said the decision rests with the clubs... surely even the most battle-hardened of club owners and coaches can see that weekends like this one past can only serve to make their rugby teams better, not worse. If the English were to at least do as the French have done, not only would it be that wonderful rarity: a decision made on the basis of improving rugby, but it would also give the game's biggest stakeholders - the fans - what they need and love.

Nobody would think any worse of the English for doing as the French. They might not even gloat. As long as we get our Cup back...

We did call it in advance (yes, shameless plugging), but now it has been confirmed, let's all doff cap to Kieran Read.

There was an interesting conversation overheard the other day about the relative merits of Read v McCaw as the best of all time. For McCaw, arguments centred the longevity and continuous ability to adapt to both changes in the game and in his battered frame, but for Read, the counsel spoke of his having improved McCaw's benchmark in every area.

An interesting debate. While McCaw has been long-celebrated for his ability to disrupt, this year's Rugby Championship went some considerable way to marking Read out as master of the turnover. Read is more dynamic with ball in hand - his soft skills are impeccable - and he carries more possession. The argument stuttered on who worked hardest, with both corners conceding a score draw in terms of rucks hit or tackles made. And McCaw is still the leader - that bit of hierarchy will not change until he retires.

We'd welcome your input on this question though: has Read now bettered McCaw's benchmarks? Do we have a new greatest ever?

Not that it matters of course; as the conversation moved onto other subjects the pro-McCaw lobby remarked: "...anyway it's all a little bit academic, they've bloody well got both of them in the same team..."

And finally, we'd be remiss not to mention our own sorrow at the passing of Nelson Mandela. What he did outside of sport is for other columns to discuss, but our fondest memories of him remain his enthusiasm for the game and for the essences of the game, and for what the game can do for people.

He has left us iconic memories of a World Cup and a passionate nation united on and off the field for the first time, left us a legacy that reminds us all that rugby is about the people you play both with and against, that knowledge is nothing without enthusiasm, and that our game is one for all shapes, sizes, classes, colours and creeds.

Thanks Madiba. And rest in peace.

Loose Pass compiled by Richard Anderson

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