Loose Pass: A hospital pass to Leicester Tigers, Owen Farrell’s disciplinary case and our thoughts are with the Ibanez family

Lawrence Nolan
Loose Pass

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with hospital passes from national unions, the Owen Farrell disciplinary case and some ugly news from France…

Headhunters and the bodies left behind

Whatever package Leicester Tigers got from the Rugby Football Union (RFU) for the acquisition of Steve Borthwick and Kevin Sinfield must have been quite something, for it has clearly left the reigning champions in a bit of a pit.

Richard Wigglesworth cannot be said to be out of his depth – not least because nobody really knows what his depth is yet – but dropping him into the thick of the head coach position, shorn of a defence coach, halfway through the Premiership’s most competitive season ever and with Christmas breaks to negotiate is hardly an ideal introduction to the tracksuit. He needs time to acclimatise in the new role before he can truly prove himself; he will not really get it until June.

The disruption is evident in the numbers, if nothing else. The Christmas Eve win over Gloucester was a false dawn, backed up by two 40-point drubbings at Sale Sharks and, perhaps more concerningly, Newcastle Falcons. A trip to a rabid Clermont on a Friday night is hardly what the doctor ordered, nor is the looming further disruption from the Six Nations, where Leicester could quite easily lose two scrum-halves to international duty, not to mention at least one flanker and back-line player. On top of the injury list they currently have, the Tigers may be only two points off third place, but they are also, in this most competitive of seasons, only a couple of bad results away from the bottom spot too.

Tigers fans are yet to be completely up in arms – both those defeats were away from home and most of the remaining games are at home – but the RFU will not be popular at Welford Road for some time if this carries on.

As if to sort of prove that point, Toulon’s fans have been airing their grievances this week past, both before the French federation’s approach to head coach Pierre Mignoni and after the latter’s public refusal of the offer (triggered by a classic piece of French public politicking when Toulon president Bernard Lemaitre publicly insisted he make a choice on Sunday, and quickly).

The target of the ire is more Mr. Lemaitre than it is the French federation, with one fan group saying that: “The deafening silence of the club’s management on the sporting situation and more broadly on the sporting policy of the Rugby Club Toulonnais is a problem. We also regret that the only speeches are reserved for the launch of marketing ideas more far-fetched than the others… the people of Toulon no longer recognise themselves in their club! Our club is getting lost and silently sinking.”

However the likely bitterness should Mr. Mignoni jump ship was also evident in a later statement from a fan group spokesman who said: “We just have the impression that there is no good decision that is taken by the management. The club is not advancing, it is simply regressing. If Mignoni were to really jump ship, it would be a whole project that would fall by the wayside. It’s tiresome.”

Being as Mr. Mignoni would not start until after the Rugby World Cup, you’d be forgiven for thinking this story was not done yet despite his initial refusal on Sunday. The worst may yet therefore be to come for Toulon fans; still at least it didn’t happen mid-season.

All eyes on the numbers

Owen Farrell, we all thought, had learned. Clearly not though, but in the wake of Joe Marler’s peculiarly-arranged suspension last week (which Loose Pass looked at) all eyes will now be on the ban that surely is coming from the beaks.

Farrell is likely to be looking at least six weeks, considering his previous (his last ban was in September 2020 for the same offence and was five weeks). There is the likelihood he can go to the World Rugby intervention program known as ‘tackle school’ to shave a week off (although how many times can you go to tackle school and still get it so wrong). There is also a possibility of mitigation for something reducing the ban by two weeks, although again, how many times can you be banned for the same thing before bans are simply unable to be mitigated?

All of which could reduce the ban to three weeks, leaving Farrell conveniently available for the Scotland Six Nations opener.

But. Those three game weeks include a Premiership week in which Farrell would normally not be available as a part of the England squad, which is yet to be named, so it would be chicanery of the highest order were that week to count, or were Farrell not to be picked for England and then added the day after Saracens play Bristol, never mind the aforementioned ‘rules’ on how bans can be reduced or mitigated. Loose Pass awaits the outcome with interest.

And while we are there – and this has been dealt with elsewhere – but how on earth Manu Tuilagi escaped censure for his charge on Tommy Allan is way, way beyond us. There doesn’t need to be intention, only recklessness, of which there was oodles – and we’ve not even gone to whether he was trying to wrap or not. A poor call from Wayne Barnes, and an even worse decision from the match commissioner not to cite.

Wishing all the best

While many eyes in France were elsewhere in the wake of Chabal-gate and some tasty Top 14 action, the news also broke that Raphael Ibanez’s son has taken indefinite leave from his rugby career at Nationale club Blagnac, in order to fight leukaemia.

“Suffering from leukaemia, Mateo’s season stops here to make way for another match that he will lead with courage in the face of the disease. Courage being the most accurate word to describe the state of mind shown by our flanker,” said the club in a statement.

We wish him well on his road to recovery.

READ MORE: Owen Farrell: England and Saracens playmaker cited for dangerous tackle