Loose Pass: Innocent bystander pays England price and shocking play-off statistics

Lawrence Nolan
The collateral suffering that red card created and home advantage key last weekend.

The collateral suffering that red card created and home advantage key last weekend.

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with collateral suffering, Australia’s Worcester moment, home advantage and distant, unnecessary tournaments…

The other red card punishment

There’ll be plenty who felt for Beno Obano on Saturday despite the clear mis-step he made when thundering into Juarno Augustus’ jaw. Calling the decision a ‘blight on the game’ as some outlets have is a bit far, yet it was also a tackle similar in many ways to the one that saw Sam Cane sent off in the World Cup final. Augustus was hardly upright when he carried the ball into the contact. The only difference really is that Augustus was running low for all the moments as he sized up taking Obano on.

Anyway, Obano was sent off. And as he is a prop, someone else had to go because another prop needed to come on.

So if you were harbouring sympathies towards Obano, those sympathies should be multiplied for Alfie Barbeary. Touted as an England prospect, in the Premiership final and with England head coach Steve Borthwick watching on two days before announcing his touring squad, Barbeary’s final was over after 20 minutes for something he was nowhere near.

Two days later, his name was not on Borthwick’s touring squad list. Not that it definitely would have been anyway, the England number eight jersey is a hotly-contested one at the moment, but Barbeary definitely had a right to consider inclusion as a possibility. His face as he trotted off on Saturday belied his thoughts that his final shot at staking a claim had been buried.

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It would have been a huge call for any player, but for Barbeary, one of Bath’s outstanding players this season, the collateral damage done because of a red card decision will have left a sour taste.

Where do they go?

Nobody wanted to see any of Worcester, Wasps or London Irish disappear from the rugby map, yet the redistribution of some players has also been key to the development of some of England’s finest players over the past year or two.

Would Fin Smith have been so prominent in the reckoning had he stayed at Sixways for example? Would Curtis Langdon have his Premiership winner’s medal? Would Ollie Lawrence or Chandler Cunningham-South definitely have kicked on to their England call-ups? Jack Willis endured a rough time initially, but with a European star now emblazoned on his chest and a happy life in the south of France, you couldn’t really fail to agree that all’s well, in his case, that ends well. And most pertinently, would the Premiership have been such fun to watch this season had the player stocks not become more concentrated as they did?

In Melbourne, a group of 40-odd players now face the same dilemma, but with Rugby Australia managing, to an extent, player flows within the country on top of facing a general financial and confidence crisis of its own, the management and distribution of that 40-odd squad is a crucial moment in Australia’s build-up to the 2025 Lions tour and 2027 World Cup.

What to do with Taniela Tupou or Carter Gordon, for example, or where should Rob Leota go? Jordan Uelese is exactly at the moment where a good landing should see him kick on as some of the English players above have. The same applies to Filipo Daugunu.

All talents whom RA cannot afford to lose or see depart, but whose relocation must also be managed such that the players are able to see a suitable amount of game-time at the top level. It’s a juggling act that is critical to Australia’s reboot after the last World Cup.

Home comforts

Across the English, United Rugby Championship, European and Super Rugby tournaments this season, the following stat from knockout rounds:

38 matches, 34 home wins (or 37/33 if you exclude the Sharks’ semi-final against Clermont). In the domestic leagues the success rate of home teams in play-off rounds – so far – is 100 per cent.

Granted, the format is geared up to reward regular-season performance by handing home advantage to higher-placed teams, but knockout rugby is supposed to be a little more perilous than this isn’t it? Otherwise what is the point?

And while we’re on about pointless things…

Still, dispensing with home advantage means finding somewhere suitably neutral. And if the alternative to home advantage is taking things to petrodollar states, then give us the lack of peril back please. After all, such places are well-noted for creating plenty of peril of their own, very little of it anything to do with the sports teams playing there.

But despite the disquiet at Qatar’s bid for the Nations Cup Championship Finals Series, or Super Bowl of Rugby, or whatever other grotesque name the organisers are going to give it, the real question still remains: why do we need this tournament in the calendar anyway? Aren’t we supposed to be managing workloads?

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