Loose Pass

Date published: October 15 2014

Welcome to Loose Pass, our weekly collection of mild malaises, shakes and sweats, and behind the eyes bludgeon headaches.

Welcome to Loose Pass, our weekly collection of mild malaises, shakes and sweats, and behind the eyes bludgeon headaches.

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with ‘Stralia, referee abuse and the World Cup…

As more and more Beale-gate (can’t believe nobody coined that already) details surface, the state of Australian rugby is becoming more and more parlous.

Many players, when asked about how they are going, have uttered the reply “I can’t wait for this season to be over.” That’s not the attitude to be taking onto a November tour during which Australia will be playing both England and Wales in World Cup pool of death dress rehearsals, never mind Bledisloe three this weekend.

As Kurtley Beale faces a disciplinary hearing, the objectiveness of which seems compromised at best, most of the published opinion is beginning to take aim at Ewen McKenzie.

He stands accused – in columns at least – of double standards in man management, skipping training sessions at short notice (alone that ought to see him also be hauled up in front of the disciplinary in my view) to take the multi-tasking Di Patston to an airport, and even an extra-marital affair with the afore-mentioned Patston.

Significantly, gestures within the squad suggest that McKenzie is persona non grata as well. None of the All Blacks had a problem with leaving Aaron Cruden behind after his misdemeanour before the Argentina trip, but Australia’s players bristled at the thought that Beale might be sent home as a result of his mid-air argument with Patston.

She left instead – her lift to the airport was the reason McKenzie missed training. Captain Michael Hooper, where most captains would stay neutral and ‘leave it to the disciplinary’ in a trusting manner, instead directly asserted ‘we are backing Kurtley’, a very different answer to the one he gave when asked if he was backing McKenzie: ‘we are backing everyone…’ Adam Ashley-Cooper, one of Australia’s finest servants, also sounded the player solidarity bell, saying ‘…I’m feeling for a mate. I’m feeling for a team-mate and I share those feelings on behalf of the rest of the team.’

While McKenzie and Beale deal with the flak coming their way, Patston has vanished into the shadows. She resigned citing stress, with enough unanswered questions following her to fill the Sydney Football Stadium.

Having blamed the inconsistencies of her LinkedIn profile on the errors of a third party, the very pertinent question of who that third party is and what exactly went on has not been answered.

Nor has the ARU been able to clarify her role and remit within the Wallaby squad to any satisfying extent. Neither has McKenzie, one of the sorest points with the players of all.

Nobody has explained why the texts – which were sent in June – were not dealt with before even though McKenzie clearly knew about them. And it seems nobody is giving a direct answer to whether Patston will be at Beale’s disciplinary hearing or not, something you would have thought was paramount.

And another outstanding question: what is the final part of this sentence in the letter from ARU General Counsel Richard Hawkins to Beale on about: “We consider the distribution of the texts to be a serious breach of Section 3 of the ARU Code of Conduct. We would, however, like to discuss with you and Isaac (Beale’s agent) options for dealing with this matter which take into account its particular sensitivities and the interests of all involved.”

It’s a right old mess and it is nowhere near being cleaned up. But for me, the most revelatory statement was in Beale’s apology to Patston during the text exchange: “I just do stupid things for no reason.”

No obvious reason no, but for a young man who has been trying so hard to clean himself up over the past twelve months, that statement smacks of someone disillusioned with those he would want to respect, his texts, whether accidentally sent or not, a smoke signal for help.

Apparently the Wallabies had an honesty session on Sunday night. We’ll know soon enough how that went. The chief worry among the players appears to be that Beale might be made a scapegoat by the ARU for a whole phalanx of errors, including the appointment and defence of Patston and the lack of attention to supervising McKenzie.

Then there’s the trust McKenzie needs to earn back from the players. That does not get cleared up in one honesty session. And all this on the back of the ARU’s continued financial troubles. Who’d be a Wallaby fan right now?

Oh yes, Australia are playing New Zealand on Saturday. I’ll take 20 to 1 on a Wallaby win.

It was not a good weekend for player-official relations either. In South Africa, hooker Ryno Barnes was dismissed for referring to a referee in certain female anatomical terms within earshot, with referee Pro Legoete reminding Barnes that this was a family show as he flourished the red card! While that gave the incident a vague silver lining, it might behoove SARU to give Barnes a good long ban for that one.

Meanwhile in France, Ronan O’Gara’s frustration with the officials boiled over for the second time since his move to Paris, with O’Gara clearly visible on the pitch shouting all manner of frenzied queries to Jaco van Heerden even while Stade Francais’ Jules Plisson was lining up the conversion of the try.

O’Gara has already been in hot water with the LNR for a similar official indiscretion and while we’re mildly sympathetic to his plight (in the name of all things), how can this be a try at about 2.00 here.

O’Gara now needs the book thrown at him. The French rugby elite are often masters of losing their cool in spectacular fashion, with the large portion also having mastered knowing exactly when to do it. If O’Gara is truly to ingratiate himself with the locals, he needs to study the second of those textbooks…

Finally, the jubilant Uruguayans clinched World Cup spot number 20 on Saturday with a scintillating second-half performance to down Russia. Good luck to them – their pool is as tough as it gets.

And it means that every international match is now a rehearsal, or selection debate settler, or tactical experiment… but this coming November we will truly see what England are made of as they welcome New Zealand and South Africa. We will know whether Wales have kicked on from their near-miss in Nelspruit.

We will know if Ireland can be the same after BOD. And we’ll be able seriously to assess the form ahead of England 2015. Exciting!

Loose Pass compiled by former Planet Rugby Editor Danny Stephens