Loose Pass: The Nic White incident, a moment of maul defence and Argentina’s big day in New Zealand

Lawrence Nolan

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with the Nic White incident, a moment of maul defence, and Argentina’s big day…

Dirty White

Considering this is a man who once encouraged his team to wear armbands reading ‘Justice for Bakkies’ after his serially transgressing team-mate had seen karma finally catch up with him, for John Smit to complain that rugby had lost a little of its soul when White conned a yellow card out of Paul Williams was a bit rich. Frankly, it was a scenario where nobody came out well.

It didn’t take long for a brace of memes featuring White and Faf de Klerk to start doing the rounds, the one with White clutching a well-deserved Oscar was predictably first up, the one with the faces of De Klerk and White superimposed on the almost iconic image of the slap delivered by Will Smith to Chris Rock was a little better.

But to portray White as the only villain is wrong. De Klerk had already shaped to slap as White had changed his position at the scrum base (when are we going to wise up and penalise that attempt to con penalties out of the opposition by the way) and he left his arm hanging there as a warning.

Yet the arm and hand would have been nowhere near the ball and only barely at the top of White’s passing arm. It’s a little hard to dispel the notion that De Klerk, also, was looking for a little contact that was at the edges of the law. And with the arm and hand held out so stupidly high, why wouldn’t White let it brush his chops as he scampered with the ball?

So far, so normal from White against not the most intelligent from De Klerk but the subsequent reaction was really pathetic. A stagger, a momentary twitch of rage and pleading for justice before he remembered himself and realized it would all be a bit more effective if he were actually injured. The choreographed Andy Dufresne-esque drop to the knees, the collapse to the turf as though snipers in the stand had finished him off. It made the bloke Nigel Owens once ticked off for being all football look rough and ready. As one sharpshooter in the chat forum remarked: “kudos to him, he’s just ruined his reputation to get his team out of trouble,” a remarkably positive twist on an incident of real tripe.

Yet it did not stop there. Both TMO and referee, abandoning all common sense and proportion, began watching it in slo-mo and ticking off their World Rugby protocol checklists; as soon as your correspondent heard the phrase ‘contact with the head’, his skin began audibly to crawl. A yellow card was inevitable, as was the astonishment plastered all over De Klerk’s face, possibly the only emotion and act during the entire passage that was not total stage-show. Siya Kolisi seemed mostly just glad the whole incident was over, certainly everyone else was. Except perhaps White, who managed to find his way through the haze of pain and enjoy a pressure-relieving penalty.

It all needs nipping in the bud. A penalty was right, De Klerk was just plain dumb to put himself in that position, but wouldn’t it be great if rugby, as so often in the past, took a stance on acts contrary to the spirit of the game such as play-acting, twitching at the base of the scrum (the evolution of the dummy pass used around the turn of the millennium which became penalisable) and other such blights? Wouldn’t it be great if referees could put down their protocols and observe what’s going on occasionally? Nobody came out of this well.

Fainga’a-ed for good defence

A moment at the end of the first half of that Test encapsulated everything wrong with the maul as an attacking weapon.

South Africa get a good rumble going, it trundles forward then skews to the left, whereupon a flying brigade of green jerseys detach from the back and head off right into near-open pasture.

Near-open because Wallabies hooker Folau Fainga’a was still waiting on the blind side. He put his head down, placed his foot forward and did his manly duty of trying to tackle four men. He did pretty well too, certainly well enough to stop the quartet thundering on into the tryzone. So well did he do in fact that he was penalised and, apparently, extremely fortunate not to get a yellow card. His transgression? Apparently as the maul skewed as recounted above, it also went forward, while Fainga’a, understandably focused with pant-bricking intensity on trying to figure out which of the four had the ball (it’s never the leading one is it) did not move backward.

We get that players should not join mauls at the side while the ball is still in it. We get that mauls should not be collapsed when on the roll. But a marginal offside in the situation outlined above? When most of the time the attacking team’s splinter maul is quite clearly indulging in all manner of obstruction against any defender unfortunate enough to be standing in the way?

The maul remains too easy a weapon and too poorly officiated on the attacking side. Surely it will be looked at after the Rugby World Cup?

Argentina strike gold in Christchurch

A fortnight ago this column went to lengths (some of them even close to eloquent) to explain that all was not lost for New Zealand, and especially not for coach and co.

Loose Pass will now confess, we are not so sure. Argentina’s defence was as physical as it was brilliant, while the referee remained resolute for all 80 minutes in pinging technical offences, tiredness and laziness for both teams. The Pumas swarmed, identifying ball-carriers with unswerving accuracy and hitting constantly behind the gain-line. They were gifted a soft try, which turned out to be the winning points, but the steady stream of penalties against New Zealand was as damning as it was deadly.

For while Argentina’s performance built on togetherness, accuracy and willpower, New Zealand’s foundered on sloppy technique, disjointedness and a sort of high-handed belief that if they ran the ball enough, the gap would simply come. Instead, they just conceded cheap penalties.

Sam Cane chose a poor moment to have a stinker; if questions are not being asked about Foster once again, they surely will be about him. He looks horribly out of form and out of responses as to how to drag his team together. Sam Whitelock too, was guilty of some moments of looseness, but it was also a little tough to dispel the notion that some of his wilder offloads and charges might have been less wild had he been playing with a team from yesteryear.

But this is the New Zealand of now. Echoes of the past, little spark from the future, and the rest caught in the middle, not sure which generation they belong to. The era is over. Argentina’s might just be starting.

READ MORE: Rugby Championship Team of the Week: Argentina and Australia rewarded after victories over All Blacks and Springboks