Loose Pass

Date published: April 20 2016

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with a brief relegation debate and an excited look forward to Rio…

Ups and downs

For London Irish, the time is almost nigh. For Agen and Oyonnax it has long since been so. For the Zebre and Treviso it should long have been so – certainly the former, who went from March 1 to April 16 without registering a single competitive point on the pitch this season, never mind the ugly-reading PRO12 table.

If you are Georgian, you would have a quite justifiable case for saying that it should be so for Italy as well. But the debate always seems to rage fiercest in England.

The theme of whether relegation is a positive or not has been raised far less than usual this Aviva Premiership season – you suspect in part because this season has been so exciting at the other end of the table.

For their part, the Exiles have accepted their looming demotion with good grace, while in the Championship the race for the meal ticket is hotting up. And good grace or not, the Exiles have not been performing like an elite team. Some of the decision-making during the fate-sealing defeat to Newcastle on Sunday was U13 C-team stuff, backed up with D-team handling. In a league rightly winning plaudits for a season of immense quality, the Exiles have come up painfully short.

Yet the irritation at the way the potential promoted club has to undergo a strict and lengthy facility audit during the precise time all the other Premiership clubs are busying themselves with a bout of squad-strengthening is still evident.

Of the four clubs who will take part in the Championship playoffs, Bristol and Yorkshire Carnegie (that’s Leeds to you and me) will have no problems passing the audit. Bedford are not interested in redeveloping or upgrading Goldington Road.

But Doncaster, who will need to do a lot of work on both squad and ground should they triumph, will be the ones left hanging if they win through, wasting time on facility audits when they should be building a Premiership-strength team.

If we assume Doncaster do not pass the audit, that means that should Bedford or Doncaster win the Championship playoffs, London Irish would be saved – something sure to send the fans of Bristol into a rabid rage given the way they have dominated the league this season.

Is it all right? The view of Loose Pass is that if it is to be done, then it must be done fully and openly: that means open up promotion and relegation so that the strongest of the league below go up and the weaklings of the league above drop down.

There are some sound developmental arguments for the audit, but this audit should be performed at the start of the year, for example, at least allowing a fair playing field for the new elite team from the end of the final minute of the previous season, rather than from sometime indiscriminate moment in July when all the available playing talent has already been snapped up.

Hopefuly Bristol seal a deserved win and this becomes irrelevant.

Her name is Rio…

So a relatively quiet weekend of domestic action (saving myself for long playoff weekends) allowed Loose Pass to have a good hard gander at the sevens in Singapore this weekend, which were watched with wider and wider eyes as the weekend progressed.

See, it used to be the Kiwis, Fiji or the Blitzbokke. England briefly intruded, as did Samoa, but sevens has often been a bit of fun with the occasional upset, before one of the big three triumphed in the end. It’s been a while since I watched with any huge expectation.

The accession of rugby to the Olympics has changed all that. Kenya and the USA have teams to rival the best. Canada are not far behind. New Zealand are not even guaranteed to qualify from their pool any more.

Fiji are prone to running out of steam, but the way they play just enthrals. Even France and Argentina are strong now, with dedicated sevens specialists full of skills, pace and guile.

The 15-man code, with its added facets of muscular endurance and collision, on top of the strategies and moves needed to open up space in such a crowded area, will remain the king.

But you can’t claim that sevens is a mere distraction from the real game any more: it is a game unto itself, with its own tactics, strategies and thrills for the viewer.

The Olympic games is going to be a treat.

Loose Pass compiled by former Planet Rugby Editor Danny Stephens