Loose Pass: Bad timing and a Super procession


This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with the RFU’s ‘ultimatum’, and the Super Rugby Final in Christchurch this Saturday.

Why now, RFU?

So, barely two years on from a rugged, competitive and belligerent Grand Slam win, it has come to this: win more games Eddie, or get on yer bike.

“We plan to win every game we play. We expect success in the autumn,” said RFU CEO Steve Brown, displaying a breathtaking disregard for the unpredictability of the sporting industry and how it can play out. England play South Africa, New Zealand, Japan and Australia later this year.

But there are three parts to this situation, only one of which can really be attributed to Jones.

We’re all pretty cognisant of the fact that Jones has been pushing the squad mercilessly since he arrived, mentally and physically. In fact, he seems to have been pushing all around him mercilessly, as the high staff turnover and extraordinary injury rate indicates. It’s his style, but it’s often too much for many over time. This is Jones’ weakness, he doesn’t seem to know when to slow down, doesn’t seem to know when to manage, rather than challenge and cajole.

What is not Jones’ fault is the schedule foisted upon him by the proliferation of seasons and competitions and commitments he and his players have to endure. We’ve harped on about this enough over the past few months, but it has never done Jones any favours since his arrival. And this middle season, on the back of a Lions tour in which many of his players were involved, was always going to be a test of management that Jones’ style would struggle to pass.

And finally, what is also not Jones’ fault is what appears to be some financial pressures on the RFU. It’s been no secret that the RFU broke the bank to get their man, but the bank in general is creaking at the moment.

Brown is overseeing a redundancy process that involves 62 people losing their jobs and which will apparently save the RFU GBP2-3m per year.

“Lots has been said about what’s going on at the union. We’ve not seen a drop in income yet but the people who support us, invest in us and spend money here are suffering out there,” he added.

Now, we’re not suggesting that there’s some form of pressure on Jones simply because the RFU needs to save cash, but when times get tough, the salaries and value of the highest-paid execs become a lot more scrutable.

Jones commands significant chunks of cash for his work, much more than many others, but when there’s a pinch on, the value he delivers has to be just as significant. That value has fallen away at the worst possible time.

And for us, that might be a clincher as to why this ultimatum has come little more than a year before Jones takes England to the World Cup he was employed to deliver. For it’s a strange time to consider changing coaches, and a very strange time of the year to issue a sudden ultimatum.

The procession rolls to an end

On Saturday in Christchurch, the Crusaders will once again be crowned Super Rugby champions. It’s as sure a thing as a TMO getting a crucial call wrong once a week.

But it’s just as sure a thing that fewer people than ever before will even pay it much attention.

We’ve said it enough before, but this is a competition that has badly lost its way. We had one semi-final which by rights should have been the final, while the other semi-final was contested between two teams that would have finished, respectively, fourth and fifth in the New Zealand Conference. This cannot be a healthy competition.

Unfortunately, it’s a little tough to know exactly what to do with it. South Africa’s teams complained that the travel schedule under the old round robin format was punishing to them, but now they travel less that has clearly proved not to be the case.

Australian rugby desperately needs some investment – the ARU and Andrew Forrest need to kiss and make up quickly – while the Sunwolves have proved a premature waste of money and the Jaguares, while a breath of fresh air, might not be doing the Argentinean Test team much good.

But at least a round robin format and the abandonment of the conferences would provide us with the knockout rounds the teams and observers deserve, rather than manufactured interest and ultimate anti-climax.

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Loose Pass compiled by Lawrence Nolan