Loose Pass

Date published: January 17 2017

This week we will be mostly concerning ourselves with expanded Rugby World Cups, beep tests, jackals and prop idols.

Breaking down

It’s probably not the most appropriate week in which to do this, but Loose Pass feels compelled to devote this day to the jackal.

It is our contention that rugby’s breakdown area is in danger of being taken out by the authorities – or at least by the new laws concerning deliberate or accidental contact with the head.

Up to this point, much of the hoopla concerning the new zero-tolerance approach has centred on the tackle area. And rightly so: we’ve seen cards galore as players seek – with varying degrees of success – to recalibrate their leading arms.

But the poor souls are having even more problems figuring out how to live within the new laws at the breakdown.

How does one now counter the ‘jackal’ in this day and age? There he is, clamped to your ball with burglarious intent – and your job is to remove him without making deliberate or accidental contact with his head.

If you’ve ever played ‘Operation’ then you’ve also surely flung the whole flipping board against the wall in disgust. The buzzer will surely sound no matter which angle you choose to insert the tweezers.

That’s the future for rugby’s breakdown area: when the risk of intervention becomes too great, it patently wiser not to compete at all.

And thus the jackal is no longer an endangered species. The pesky beasts are beginning to act with impunity for they know that turnovers – or, more likely, penalties – are there for the taking at very little personal or collective risk.

And what do you get if you take the bite out of the breakdown? Well, rugby league, of course – and who wants that?

But we shouldn’t be too glum. Union’s great strength has always been its ability to adapt to the constant tweaking of its laws.

Perhaps good, old-fashion rucking will make a triumphant return. There’s no ‘neck-rolls’ required, and nothing separates jackal and quarry like a generous slice of shoe pie.

Rugby’s thin-skinned administrators are unlikely to share our thirst for shredded jerseys, but this is 2017 – all we have is hope!

Spreading the gospel

Loose Pass is not accustomed to casting envious eyes at our round-balled cousins, but there’s a certain genius behind FIFA’s decision to expand soccer’s World Cup from 32 to 48 teams.

Sure, it’s designed to swell Swiss coffers and it’s probably all bankrolled by Panini (how many stickers will we now need?!), but you can’t knock its commitment to mass appeal.

Rugby needs to follow suit. There’s been some talk of expand the Rugby World Cup to 32 teams from 2023, but it has amounted to just that: talk. Indeed, there’s also been talk about condensing the whole thing – dispensing the so-called ‘minnows’ in favour of a hardcore of 16.

Yes, we hear you: the mismatches at an expanded tournament would be colossal. Going by current rankings, New Zealand could be drawn against Poland.

But would the mighty Bialo-Czerwoni really shy away from facing the Haka? Of course not! And just imagine what it would do for rugby across eastern Europe. Imagine what new talent could emerge!

And we also hear you on the number of largely meaningless matches that would be played across an extended span of precious calendar, but this is where FIFA’s plan comes into its own: by pooling teams into three, the number of total games played by each nation remains low.

So rugby could invite the top 30 teams, with the pool-toppers plus best second-placed side going through to the last 16. Not only would this spread the gospel far and wide, it would  make all games genuinely competitive, with results like Japan’s over South Africa in 2015 actually causing a proper upset rather than a mere blip.

Best of all, the eventual winners would actually play one fewer games than in the current format, thereby streamlining the show and ticking that much-maligned box labelled ‘player welfare’.

So there you have it! No need to thank us, World Rugby. We’ll just take a cut of the profits.

Doing a runner

On current form, you’d be called out for a thorough HIA if you were to question the judgement of the all-conquering Eddie Jones. But we can’t help ourselves.

The England coach claims his heel-kicking captain Dylan Hartley will be ready to take on the French in the Six Nations if he can pass a fitness test that involves running 120 metres per minute for 36 minutes.

So our main question is this, and it’s directed at the bookmakers: if he’s cleared for Le Crunch, what odds can we get on him dropping his first pass?

Prop stars

Our comforting (if slightly stereotyped) imagine of props has taken a hammering this week. First, we were force to endure an eyeful of Bath prop Max Lahiff after his shirt was pulled off during a scuffle – an image rightly labelled “a disgrace” by BT commentator and former England lock Ben Kay.

Seeking solace from this high crime against rugby, we turned to the BBC, only to witness former Wales prop Adam Jones on Mastermind, scoring a perfect 12 from 12 on his specialist subject.

And if this cerebral dexterity was not galling enough, he breezed confidently into the general knowledge section where he finally stumbled on a question concerning – and there’s no easy way of saying this – beer. What’s become of us all?

Anyway, the Hair Bear’s special subject was the British & Irish Lions from 1993 to 2005. See if you can keep up with the Joneses. Here are his questions.

No conferring, no Google. Your 90 seconds starts …. now!

1: Graham Henry coached the Lions on their 2001 tour before coaching which other team to a 3-0 victory over the touring side just four years later?

2: Who was selected to captained the Lions on their 1997 tour of South Africa?

3: In 2005, Brian O’Driscoll’s tour was ended in the opening minutes of the first Test when he was injured in a so-called ‘spear tackle’ by Tana Umaga and which other New Zealand player?

4: Which member of the 1997 and 2001 squads is a nephew of Barry John?

5: The Lions biggest win over New Zealand was in the second Test of 1993. How many points did they score to the All Blacks’ seven?

6: Who scored the Lions’ winning drop-goal in the second Test against South Africa in 1997?

7: Who coached Australia ‘A’ to victory over the Lions in 2001?

8: Before flying to New Zealand, in which stadium did the Lions draw 25-25 against Argentina in 2005?

9: The Lions lost two games on the 1997 tour, one was against South Africa in the third Test, who was the other against?

10: Name the Scottish back-row forward whose 2001 tour was ended by a knee injury in the first game.

11: Who was the head coach of the Lions for the third time on the tour to South Africa in 1997?

12: Which centre was selected for the 1997 tour of South Africa before winning his England cap?

Loose Pass is compiled by former Planet Rugby editor Andy Jackson