This week we will be mostly concerning ourselves with bonus points, black eyes, ‘untenable’ economics and alcoholic therapy.
The joy of six
Praise be, we’re almost there!
With the world seemingly cut adrift on a churning sea of fathomless idiocy, there she stands, totally impervious to the frothing flapdoodle that laps at her stately toes.
Ah, the Six Nations! How we’ve missed your familiar embrace.
She’s an ever-fixed mark, a beacon, a refuge, a hideout, a haven, a shelter from the storm, a sanctuary.
And now, in this time of such relentless flux, her perennial charms burn even brighter. The eternal sights, sounds and tastes of Europe’s six finest capitals will be panacea for all. The customary banter and fair-natured jingoism will wash over us like tonic, and we’ll roll home content in the knowledge that we can still rely on a few constants.
But wait! There has been a change to the time-honoured show, and it’s consistent with the global pandemic of our age: change for change’s sake. The old girl’s guardians have decided to sex her up by attaching bonus points.
We’ve nothing against bonus points per se. Indeed, they’ve been known to gee up pedestrian rugby – and, let’s face it, pedestrian rugby is another long-standing Six Nations tradition.
No offence meant, of course. It’s just that playing five Tests in 40-odd days requires the maintenance of dry powder, and you see a lot of dry-powder maintenance when a team goes into the final quarter, two scores clear. So perhaps the lure of bonus points will keep games interesting for longer.
But that’s about all the support we can muster.
Firstly, bonus points aren’t all about positive, try-peppered rugby. A side could now seal the championship by losing their final game by a narrow margin. Worse, chances are they’d actually approach such a match with that one-point mentality. Doesn’t really smack of ‘Super Saturday’, does it?
And just ponder the home-and-away imbalance. Some teams get three home games per year while others get only two. It’s unquestionably easier to score four tries in front of your own fans, so where’s the logic in adding extra advantage to this already sizable advantage?
And what of the conditions and seasonal variations? You’d want to draw Italy in Rome on the final weekend when spring has sprung and the track is hard and dry. Running four tries past them in the depth of winter is an entirely different prospect.
And then there’s the big one: a team could clinch the Grand Slam without topping the final table.
Yes, yes. We know that three extra points will now be awarded to the team that completes the clean sweep, but that just seems like an extremely cumbersome appendage: an officious shepherd’s crook used to pull one side across the line in front of the other.
Indeed, will future historians of the game be forced to differentiate between ‘absolute’ Grand Slams and assisted ones? With England set for a showdown with Ireland in Dublin on St Patrick’s Day weekend, Sod’s Law dictates these arguments may well spill forth sooner rather than later!
And what about the other end of proceedings? Would an ‘absolute’ wooden spoon – zero point from the possible 25 – trigger anything other than red faces? How about relegation?
Now there’s one change we could get behind!
Beyond the Six Nations, Loose Pass is very much looking forward to hearing how the RFU plans to revitalise the Championship.
Somehow, the wealthiest national governing body in world rugby has allowed its second-tier competition to sink into disrepair.
Compared to the Premiership, it’s a veritable slum. There’s reports of players not only earning well below the living wage, but also having to cover their own medical expenses.
Many of these players have chosen to abandon the game. Others didn’t even get that choice. Just last week, London Welsh was expunged from the league – and possibly the history books – after Twickenham declared the club’s financial position to be “untenable”.
Sickeningly, the historic side’s one major misstep was in becoming too successful.
Promotion to the top flight in 2012 saw them forced to abandon Old Deer Park, their spiritual home, for an industrial estate near Oxford. There they had the 10,000 seats as required by Premiership Rugby. Unfortunately, the bums needed to fill them remained back in Richmond.
The subsequent three seasons saw the Exiles relegated, promoted again and relegated again. This yo-yoing caused such a bout of the bends that they failed to score a single win during the length of the 2014/15 season. Worse, a host of hasty, stop-the-rot signings left them with a mountain of unresolved debts.
The rest is history; London Welsh are now history.
And with terminal failure so closely entwined with fleeting success, who would now want to take up the poisoned chalice of promotion? Perhaps that’s the gist of the RFU’s imminent reveal: a Premiership ring-fenced for the safety of all.
It’s easy to point accusatory fingers at Twickers, but it’s not fair. They can’t be expected to bankroll “untenable” enterprises. Like it or not, professional rugby is a business: it’s sink or swim, and only the fittest survive.
So perhaps we should just let nature take its course. Perhaps rugby in England just isn’t big enough to support two tiers of professionalism.
Or perhaps we should take a look at ourselves – as rugby fans – and ask why we are so enthralled by the bright lights. Why is it that we pay ridiculous amounts of money to follow the likes of Saracens or Wasps or, indeed, England whilst ignoring our local clubs? Do we like what we see there, or do we merely like to be seen there?
Answers at the foot of this page, please. Heaven knows the RFU will need some help with this one.
Time for beers
Another week, another verbal grenade out of the mouth of Mourad Boudjellal. It won’t be the same after Toulon’s owner departs the stage – and that countdown is surely now on if his latest outburst is anything to go by.
Stung by the fact that La Rochelle chose to abandon standard Top 14 practice and actually push for a win away from home, Boudjellal has banned his players from taking holidays during the upcoming break for the Six Nations.
Whilst it’s nice to imagine his pampered ‘galacticos’ serving a spell of detention – their little faces pressed up against the windows of Stade Mayol – Boudjellal must remember he’s the one who brought these mollycoddled misfits into being. Denying them the chance to spend their euros will only serve to remind them that they are playing only for euros.
If head coach Mike Ford had any guts he’d defy his boss and actually plan a holiday for the whole team.
The poor bloke has inherited a group of players who have forgotten why they play the game. There’s no togetherness, there’s no cause, there’s no trust. What they need is beer. Lashing of it. Days on it.
It’s not big, it’s not clever, but it does tend to works!
What’s the real story behind Eddie Jones’s face? You don’t end up looking like John McClane from simply slipping in the shower, particularly not when there’s only around five feet between your face and the floor.
Feeling rather empowered by the advent of alternative facts, we’re ready to reveal all: Dylan Hartley went in for the handshake and poor Eddie simply ducked into the big lump’s leading arm.
Loose Pass is compiled by former Planet Rugby editor Andy Jackson