Loose Pass: Poor player behaviour and Eddie Jones under pressure

Lawrence Nolan

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with reasons to be cited, a few other individuals, answers to questions and new questions…

Clean up

Punishments in rugby have, historically, been aimed at those who retaliate rather than those who provoke. It is a sport for the mentally tough after all, for the strong-willed and for the survivors. Not for nothing was Willie John McBride’s rallying cry once: “get your retaliation in first, boys.”

Fair enough. Yet McBride’s words of wisdom were also in 1974. Have we not come a little further since then, than to think that hair-pulling, yes, really, hair-pulling is acceptable provocation?

It is about as cowardly and pathetic an act as can be conceived, right up there with spitting at someone or grabbing the family jewels. An enraged reaction is almost pre-programmed, even if the subsequent quasi-headbutt (if you’re going to do it…) was also OTT.

Darcy Swain will surely be out for the remainder of the series, irrespective of mitigation reductions to his ban. He’ll regret his moment of hot-headedness.

But – and Loose Pass has been here a bit before – would it not be right to give Jonny Hill at least a game or two of self-contemplation simply for the sheer grotesqueness of pre-meditating, and then executing, a huge paw reaching over and grabbing a significant portion of Swain’s locks and yanking them hard enough for Swain’s entire upper body to rock backwards? Never mind that he did it again, and then carried on goading.

For comparison: Joe Marler copped 10 weeks for tweaking the todger of Alun Wyn Jones, and the latter didn’t even react, merely stood there in a remarkable crucifix shape of undelivered rage – by a sublime coincidence the precise same shape Hill adopted once Swain had nodded his head towards Hill a little too vigorously, although Hill’s was a rather more childish protestation of innocence. But Marler was cited and banned rightfully simply because of the disreputable nature of what he was trying to do. Hill should be cited and banned too, for longer in our book, for while Marler was maybe more provocative, Hill’s act was significantly more painful and violent in nature.

Rugby needs to be better than this. Or to be more accurate, needs to be more honest than this. We know there’s going to be some pushing and shoving, some argy-bargy, a bit of bosh. It’s not always alright, but there’s an honesty and integrity to it, two ingredients so thoroughly lacking in Hill’s petulant little sideshow. It is absolutely time the disciplinary started cracking down hard on such.

People with things to ponder

Hill is not the only one who probably needs to go and sit alone at the end of a juice bar somewhere. Swain certainly could – he’d had a few seconds to recover his poise from the hair-pull before delivering his retribution.

Others would include Elton Jantjies, who desperately needs to regain his composure before his next game of Test rugby (should he get the chance).

Dan Biggar needs sit with a mental skills coach before sitting alone and thinking. He is a ferocious competitor and thrives on playing physical games and he is in fine form. Yet his incessant disputing of every single refereeing decision hugely undermined his team’s play, while the multiple verbals and shoves directed at the opposition merely served both to galvanise the Springboks as well as to show them he was mentally distracted. He gave away a crazy yellow card for killing the ball, complaining to the linesman that he was being ‘prevented from rolling away’ rather than even trying – which absolutely made the offence cynical instead of just penalizable.

And then there’s Eddie Jones. Jones has been under terrific pressure for a couple of years now and it is beginning to chip away at the team. Not all of it of his own making, but he has absolutely used up his stocks of doubt benefit with all stakeholders by dint of his waspish style, and extraordinary staff and player turnover.

And more than ever before, it seems indecision is seeping in. A new captain at a bizarre juncture, two fly-halves and no centre, limited evidence of a consistent game-plan, senior players doing things like screaming at opposition line-outs rather than studying the opposition for signs of an opportunity… England were lifeless in both attack and defence, seeming determined to fight on every front but without a coherent strategy for actually beating the opposition; in many ways a reflection of how Jones can often go about his business.

He and his teams have always had this side, but there was always an identity too, a style of play and an element of targeting the opposition with smarts as well as smack talk. This seems to have faded over the past two years and England are suddenly in a deep hole because of it.

Last week’s answers

Smith or Owen Farrell, or both, or one to finish the game that the other has started? Well, we can at least eliminate both as a working option for now.

Can Wales’ returning superstars make a difference? Something has changed. Louis Rees-Zammit looks reborn, the scrum-halves look lively and the scrum held up well for the large part. Huge credit to the coaching staff for the bounce back.

Can Ireland do it in New Zealand as well as at home? Nope – and there was little reason to expect anything different this week.

How strong actually are Argentina these days? There’s an element of reinvigoration under Michael Cheika, but we’d be more trusting of it were the Pumas to show it away from home as well.

Ditto New Zealand? How many times have we received the same answer to this question?

Are James O’Connor and Cooper really going to steer Australia into the next World Cup? Possible, but under no circumstances discount Noah Lolesio.

And some new questions

Will Henry Arundell start?

How bad might it get for Ireland?

Can Scotland continue to maximise limited opportunities?

If Fiji back up last week’s display, how competitive will that pool be at the World Cup?

READ MORE: July internationals Team of the Week: All Blacks dominate after fine win over Ireland

 

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Springboks coach Jacques Nienaber has made a whopping 14 changes to his starting XV for the second Test against Wales.