Loose Pass

Date published: October 11 2016

This week we will be mostly concerning ourselves with uncapped Lions, empty seats and the demise of South African rugby.

Crocked Boks

There’s a well-known rugby song that centres on Chicago and the taking up of employment therein.

During renditions of said ditty, Loose Pass is often moved to ponder what could possibly connect the Windy City with our sport.

Now we know.

Fresh from securing a record 18th-straight Test victory, the history-making All Blacks will blow into Illinois on November 5 for their one-off against Ireland, and there, on Soldier Field, they will take the salute of the watching world.

Okay, there’s still one hurdle for New Zealand to clear before they can lay claim to Test rugby’s longest streak. But does anyone of sound mind expect the Wallabies to upset the applecart in next week’s third (and completely and utterly redundant) Bledisloe Cup match in Auckland?

It’s our contention that several Wallabies actively sought to sidestep the ordeal by carrying out all manner of high-handed atrocities against the Pumas at Twickenham on Saturday. Heck, Nick Phipps even floored an innocent Argentinian medic! But this is the Rugby Championship, so the citings officials kept absolutely schtum. The Red Cross, too, for that matter.

But we digress. The point is that there’s no end in sight for these streaking All Blacks. If Australia, Argentina and South Africa can’t even live with them, what chance Ireland or Italy or France? What chance the British and Irish Lions? We’ve said it before but it’s worth repeating: New Zealand haven’t lost at home since 2009.

And we think it’s fair to assume that the side that celebrated that day will not be having another Steinlager-based jol any time soon. South African rugby is in a hole, and the crazy quotas and transformation targets are only part of the problem.

In the face of the rise of rise of their arch-rivals, the Boks have suffered an acute existential crisis: they no longer know what they stand for and have forgotten where their strengths lie.

The truth is they’ve been treading water since 2007, flirting with adventure and expansive rugby before returning, time after time, to the safe embrace of Morné Steyn, standing there, in his drab slippers, deep behind the gainline. He’s basically the world’s most forgiving husband.

And yet despite his obvious limitations – i.e. playing a central role in a nine-tries-to-zip defeat at home – it looks like Morné might be the man of the house for some time to come, for according to beleaguered Bok boss Allister Coetzee, “there are not many players out there that can really strengthen our squad”.

That might well be the case, but if new blood isn’t given a concerted crack of the whip, how could he possibly know?

The first nod should go to a large broom, and it needs to pass through the team and its management as soon as humanly possible. The ‘four-year cycle’ which Coetzee has been at pains to blame is already 14 months old.

Good intentions

Firstly, before we revert to cantankerous type, let it be said that Loose Pass was excited to attend the historic Test between Argentina and Australia at Twickenham.

Los Pumas hold a special place in our hearts, and anything that could possibly bolster the standing of Argentine rugby – and the UAR’s coffers – should be applauded and supported.

And yet, like so much in professional rugby, the execution wasn’t quite right. This was another grand opportunity missed.

Firstly, the players were totally spent. There just wasn’t much heart or puff on display. This was to be expected to a degree: they’d been flown half-way around the world to contest a dead rubber.

We rather suspect that the marketeers also dialled it in, and we’re not just talking about the neon ads for ‘M & J Chickens’ and ‘Robbie Fowler’s Property Academy’ which circled the hallowed turf.

Precious few people knew the match was even happening. This was brought home to us during a desperate attempt to offload spare tickets – good, half-way line tickets – on proper rugby folk. The unerring response to around 20 phone calls and texts made on Thursday and Friday went something like this: “What? They are playing over here? On Saturday night?”

And do you know what? We failed to give them away. They are still sat here on our desk.

It was the ‘Saturday night’ bit of our pitch that scuppered the deal. We’d wager that this also accounted for the reason why almost half the seats were empty.

People have plans on Saturday night, and in a city long on novelty sporting events, the chance to see two foreign teams battle out nothing isn’t going to upset too many dinner reservations.

But the true stupidity of the 7:30pm kick-off didn’t sink in until early next morning – just one full revolution of the clock later – as we stood, bleary-eyed, on the sidelines of the Rosslyn Park Under U11s and  U7s Festival.

There before us stood at least 400 kids who would have given their eyeteeth to have attended a Test match of this standing, and at least 400 dads who would have been happy to shell out for this type of rugby education.

But no, it all took place after lights-out.

And so to organisers who wish to fill stadium and maximise profits, we say (rather dramatically, perhaps) only this: won’t someone please think of the children?

Lions bolters

And so we bid a very fond farewell to the great Dickie Jeeps, for he had one of rugby’s most colourful names (amid many, many contenders) and a personality to match.

A prankster of some repute, the England scrum-half once enlivened a perpetual post-prandial speech by the president of the French Federation by crawling under the table top to let off a firework beneath the bumbling blazer.

But it was his Test debut that assures Jeeps of his place in rugby history. It was won in front of nearly 100,000 as the British and Irish Lions went 1-0 up against South Africa at Ellis Park in 1955.

Yes, Jeeps is one of few to have earned full Lions honours before receiving the nod from their nation. In fact, as an integral part of the side that secured a famous 2-2 draw, he had four Lions caps to his name before he made his England bow against Wales in 1956.

Will Greenwood was the last to achieve the topsy-turvy feat, but can you name the next? Given the somewhat telegraphed nature of modern rugby, we’ll lower the remit to simply ‘uncapped tourist’. So identify your bolter for New Zealand 2017 in the section below and we promise to lavish lashings of kudos upon you come June.

Loose Pass is compiled by former Planet Rugby editor Andy Jackson