This week we will be mostly concerning ourselves with double tackles, fractured skulls, consistency, Eddie Jones and Siya Kolisi.
‘Just a penalty’
What should we make of World Rugby’s silence (until Tuesday afternoon GMT) on the double-tackle that left France wing Remy Grosso with a fractured skull?
How were we going to explain it to the young mum who’s uneasy about her child’s growing interest in our game?
Do we tell her the injury was just an accident, that it was – according to New Zealand boss Steve Hansen – “just one of those things”?
Do we explain that the game is “dynamic” and that we’re talking about “big guys” who tend to “change angles” at the moment of impact?
Do we add – helpfully and hopefully – that one of the two perpetrators, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, tweeted the hospitalised Grosso an apology, complete with cutesy emojis?
In truth, we don’t know what we’d tell her. We are at a complete loss.
Regular readers of this column will know that we’ve grown slightly skeptical about the sanctity that the new tackle laws have attached to the head. It’s not that we’re against player safety, it’s just that the tackle isn’t rugby’s main crime hotspot – it’s the breakdown.
Furthermore, we’ve grown increasingly frustrated that any hit north of the nipples can – and normally does – bring the game to a standstill. Cards often appear, even when it’s clearly accidental, even when refs prefix their marching orders with: “I know it was accidental but…”
We don’t like it, but we get it. We have learned to live with it because player safety is paramount.
But suddenly we get served this Grosso sandwich and are told we must stomach it.
Well, ‘told’ is a strong word. The silence on the matter – until Tuesday’s citing warning for Tu’ungafasi – was odd to say the least.
Given how easy it has become to win a yellow card these days, how can that be possible? Luke Pearce had proved this himself just moments earlier, sending France lock Paul Gabrillagues to the bin for a challenge that would have struggled to exercise a netball umpire.
We’re not saying Pearce made the wrong call in either case (it could be that we just don’t know any longer), we’re just after a modicum of consistency.
Comparing some recent high shots and sanctions in rugby union
Barrit & Barrington – 3 weeks
James Haskell – 4 weeks
Gabiriele Lovobalavu – 4 weeks
Taufa’ao Filise – 3 weeks
Sam Cane & Ofa Tu’ungafasi – 0 weeks pic.twitter.com/R68FWRqBwi
— Smällclöne (@Smallclone) June 12, 2018
We don’t know about you, but we’re still struggling to get our heads around that game in Johannesburg. We’d wager that Eddie Jones is, too.
It’s probably against the spirit of a rugby to stick yet another boot into the beleaguered boss, but he’s leaving so many questions unanswered.
Why, for instance, did he feel the players did not need to acclimatise to the altitude?
Given the altitude, whose idea was it to start a marathon at sprinting pace?
Jones pulled Nick Isiekwe from the field in the 36th minute, later explaining he wanted to “increase the speed of the pack and we needed to get more mobility in our defence”. Isiekwe is acknowledged to be the fastest forward in the England squad. He was replaced at lock by Brad Shields. Brad Shields is not a lock. Huh?
How did he not know what was coming? We would have understood had England been brought down by a couple of bolters from the back-end of Mpumalanga, but the architects of their defeat were Willie le Roux and Faf de Klerk – two Premiership players. Why were the visitors so surprised by the pace and thrust that they brought to the game?
Give that pace and thrust, was Chris Robshaw really the right horse for this particular course?
And what’s up with the defensive patterns? England have chased down no fewer than 14 conversions in their last 160 minutes of rugby. We appreciated they are without a defensive coach right now, but who’s leading the line on the pitch?
And what, one wonders, did Shields make of it all? How weird to make your debut at lock in a game of sevens. He could be forgiven for thinking he was helping out a pub team, and in a sense he was. When he finally moves to England, will be regret moving to England? New Zealand must be finding this all very amusing.
Are we being overly harsh? Perhaps. There were actually plenty of positives in England’s attacking play – and coming within three points of the Boks at Ellis Park is not to be sniffed at. The troubles seem to stem from the off-field execution.
We’ve whispered it before, but we now feel we can come out and say it straight: Jones is unravelling. It’s happened before and it looks very much like it’s happening again. Stand well back!
Siya Kolisi, who captained the Boks for the first time, said: “I was very nervous as we didn’t expect to have such a tough time early in the game, but we have guys who had been in situations like that before.” pic.twitter.com/nXo21C8ZET
— South African Rugby (@Springboks) June 9, 2018
A doff of the cap to Siya Kolisi, who became the first black player to captain the Boks on Saturday.
When his opposite number dotted down England’s third try, in just the 16th minute of the game, we feared the worst for Kolisi. He would have taken the rap for a national humiliation and the fallout would have been utterly rancid.
But Kolisi wasn’t thinking that far ahead. As Owen Farrell converted his own try to give England a startling 24-3 lead, Kolisi gathered his men under the sticks and spelled out the new gameplan. South Africa never looked back.
Le Roux and De Klerk will be rightly remembered as the heroes of the day, but Kolisi deserves special praise for the leadership that delivered one of sport’s greatest comebacks.
So here’s to The Bear, and to many more games at the helm!
Loose Pass is compiled by former Planet Rugby editor Andy Jackson