Loose Pass

Date published: December 11 2014

Welcome to Loose Pass, our weekly collection of giant-killings, one-sided cruises and tense, rugged epics.

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with several different versions of four letters, a little reminder of rugby’s heritage, and some other of the weekend’s talking points…

As outbursts go, it was right up there with Kevin Keegan on the headphones, Roy Keane piling into Mick McCarthy, any and many of Seattle Seahawks’ Richard Sherman’s tirades… but I’ll have to confess, I’ve not seen that from a rugby player before. Administrators maybe, but not from a player.

Nine f-bombs, two c-shots and a couple of little sheets for good measure pock-marked Martin Castrogiovanni’s outburst over his treatment by Leicester Tigers, who sent Toulon home with a bit to think about in a fiery encounter on Sunday.

It was Castrogiovanni’s first return to Leicester since he paid what was apparently a six-figure sum out of his own pocket to get himself out of full-time pine-riding under Richard Cockerill, someone whom it can safely be presumed is not currently on Castrogiovanni’s Christmas card list.

Cockerill’s retort was perhaps not quite as fiery as one might expect – he anticipated a smoothing beer with his detractor this coming weekend in Toulon – but he did have one point as well-made as it was succinct, when he said: “One day he’ll realise that’s just sport.”

What we’ll be absolutely fascinated to find out is whether Cockerill will be quite so sanguine after a trip to the notoriously intimidating home of the French and European Champions with a point to prove.

Anyway, that is speculation. Back to Toulon – and not just Castrogiovanni, but also Delon Armitage, who like Castrogiovanni is being investigated for some choice language, but this directed at some of Leicester’s more lively spectators.

It does seem to be becoming a part of Toulon that is becoming a little wearisome, the endless tirades. Much has come from Mourad Boudjellal, but there’s been not a little from Bernard Laporte, a few bits and bobs from players, and now this.

However amusing Castrogiovanni’s rant is when you listen to it as a grown-up, you’d be hard-pressed to find soccer players stooping to that level of rhetoric. As for Delon Armitage… well, if proven, it would not be the first time he’d been caught out behaving like a yob.

Add to it the occasionally amusing but oft-beyond arrogant snooks cocked at all and sundry by Toulon’s owner. Are we now unmistakeably getting to the stage where a club is considering itself too big for the game – and the players beginning to follow suit? If so, it might be time to throw the book.

‘Tis the second week of advent, which must mean it’s the Varsity Match! That rather liquid Thursday afternoon at Twickers where shades of blue tend to degenerate fast into smudges of brown and 30,000-odd students from the two universities do their best to get themselves into a state where the match itself will be only vaguely recalled.

This year’s Varsity Match has been given a memorial agenda, remembering the 55 Blues – 28 from Cambridge and 27 from Oxford – who fell in the First World War a century or so ago.

Oxford Captain Jacob Taylor is seeking to take the dark blues to a fifth successive Varsity crown, which would create two records as Oxford loosehead Lewis Anderson would be winning his own fifth Varsity Match as well.

Taylor may be an Australian Sevens international, but the teams continue to be made of scholars, not professionals, which tends to make the final twenty minutes a breathless slog of pure endeavour rather than the hyper-planned territorial slugfests that marked out many of the weekend’s Hein- sorry, Champions Cup sponsored by Heineken – ties, definitely the aspect that makes it fun. Well worth a watch.

There was a fair bit of press ripping around on Saturday morning in the wake of Montpellier’s disintegration at home to Bath about how little the French seem to care about the Hei- sorry, Champions Cup sponsored by Heineken.

I am not entirely sure I agree with it all. It seems that to be a French team these days means that: a) you must have pots of money and b) you must have snaffled up all the best players in the off-season, thereby rendering you nigh-on invincible in Europe. And if you lose, therefore, you must not be taking it seriously.

It’s a terrible discredit to those teams’ vanquishers. Montpellier’s troubles are internal, something upon which Bath ruthlessly preyed. Lest we forget, Bath did not muster a bonus point.

Wasps beat Castres by a reasonable score – whoopty doo. Castres are last in the Top 14 and Wasps only beat them with a late burst.

Toulouse beat the Pro12 leaders, Clermont became the first French team to win in Munster and Racing Metro were good value for their lead in Swansea before throwing it away.

The biggest surprise of all for me was Toulon’s loss in Leicester – a match I can assure you the French (in name anyway) most certainly did care about.

French teams not caring? I think you will find it is a case of those playing French teams raising their game.

The same cannot be said for the Challenge Cup, but then a lot of things cannot be said for the Challenge Cup at the moment…

Loose Pass compiled by former Planet Rugby Editor Danny Stephens