Loose Pass

Date published: August 9 2016

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with the Olympics, an offside rule tweak suggestion, and a fly-half debate…

Rugby’s back!

And we’re in! Rugby’s debut at the Olympics was inauspicious for a minute or so – a handling error followed by a reset scrum – but once Camille Grassineau (now a name to remember for all you quiz buffs out there) had steamed away from her Spanish opponent to the sound of some hesitant cheers from those foolhardy enough to brave some sauna-like heat, sevens had well and truly arrived as an Olympic sport.

The full circle aspect to the story should not be lost: 92 years ago France’s defeat to the USA in the final in Paris was followed by a riot and rugby’s dismissal from the Olympic agenda. The first match of rugby’s return was won by France’s ladies 24-7. Naturally the loudest cheers were reserved for the hosts Brazil, who briefly threatened to upset team GB before order restored itself.

The ladies’ semi-final line-up was more or less the expected one, perhaps the team missing was the USA, who ended up stunned by Fiji, pipped past the post by the All Blacks and then left dismayed by Australian Chloe Dalton’s last-kick conversion which struck the post on its way over.

But Sevens has slotted seamlessly into the Olympic program, to the benefit of both. Where full fifteens rugby is a long and painstaking (if rewarding) process to watch and learn, Sevens is simple, action-packed athleticism, served up in bite-sized chunks for general sports fans to digest easily; the roars of appreciation throughout the day grew and grew.

The simplicity opens it up to more countries, showcasing rugby as a global sport, while the Olympics benefits from including a fresh, new sport of obvious peak athleticism. We’re in! And it should only get better from here, with a wide-open men’s tournament kicking off late on Monday.

When offside just shouldn’t be

The Scots will understand. Late in the first half of the Super Rugby final, Faf de Klerk put up a handy box kick. The short side wing gave a good chase, and although James Marshall got up in the air first, the chaser also made a perfectly legitimate play for the ball, enough to disrupt Marshall’s catch.

Marshall therefore knocked on, and the ball headed straight into the breadbasket of a Hurricanes forward, whereupon Glen Jackson’s shrill whistle – he was excellent by the way – stopped the game for an offside penalty…

Should this be so though? Naturally if there’s a clear knock-on and a clear-pick up, there’s no argument. But surely a contested kick does not fall into that category? A knock-on from a contest – especially a mid-air one – is devilishly difficult to pick out for a player in the chaos of all going on around him. To give a penalty against someone for picking the ball up from an indistinct situation feels over-harsh.

Should there be clarification? For example, offside from picking up a loose ball from a contest is a scrum, while offside picking up from a clear handling error is a penalty?

Law 11.7 does not distinguish. We think it should – the penalty awarded on Saturday was distinctly harsh, not the first one of its kind either. Your thoughts?

South Africa’s problem

Sadly for him and the Lions, the debate over whether Elton Jantjies can draw diagrams as well as he can draw pictures was answered to the negative on Saturday.

The panicky and vague pass that led to the Hurricanes’ first try showed that Jantjies, for all the sparkle he gives when the day is going well, is not the guy to turn to when the wins need grinding out and the conditions get ugly.

Allister Coetzee now has a big headache going into the Rugby Championship in a fortnight’s time: whether to persevere with Jantjies and groom him into the mentally robust and versatile attacking fly-half that his opposite number on Saturday, Beauden Barrett, has absolutely become, or whether to use Jantjes as a game-breaker.

Were either of Handre Pollard or Pat Lambie fit, this would not be such a tough choice, as both of those have proven game-management abilities in all situations. But the alternative to Coetzee now is Morne Steyn, who is recovering from a tough start to life in France but hardly represents the future.

Jantjies is a world-class talent, but someone needs to get into his head quickly. Time is running out.

Loose Pass compiled by former Planet Rugby Editor Danny Stephens