Loose Pass: Mid-air collision interpretations, Women’s Rugby World Cup buzz and Lawrence Dallaglio

Lawrence Nolan

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with classic mid-air collision interpretations, the Women’s Rugby World Cup and being too big to fail. Not.

The game has changed

As soon as Courtnall Skosan was bumped in the air and began to tip, you knew what was coming. He came off second-best in the collision, but there was little doubt in any observer’s mind that Jacob Umaga would be shown red – it was mildly odd how long it took the officials to get there.

Yet while Umaga was being treated on the ground and the officials were deliberating what colour the card would be, we were shown just how far the law has come.

Wasps captain – after Joe Launchbury had been taken off – Tom Willis was quite succinct: “He was tracking the ball over his shoulder, following it all the way. How can he see a player if he’s looking the other way over his shoulder?”

Loose Pass was reminded of a red card that was shown to Ulster’s Jared Payne in a Heineken Cup match against Saracens in 2014. Then, as with Umaga, Payne had been on the move, neck tilted back and face up to the skies, tracking the ball. Then, as with Umaga, Payne had clattered into an airborne opponent (Alex Goode), who fell horribly to the ground as a result of the collision.

Payne was banned for two weeks at the time, a verdict many observers found to be incredibly harsh. After all, as with Umaga, how is Payne supposed to know where his opponent is if he is doing exactly what a good full-back should do: keep his eyes unwaveringly on the ball? At the time, Loose Pass agreed.

Which was Willis’ argument as well. Except we are all a little wiser now. We are all aware that if a ball goes up and is contestable, receivers are highly likely to jump for it. Players are better trained in aerial contests now. The emphasis has been placed on the action, not the intention. Contests for the ball have to be realistically winnable for anybody to enter them. And if in any doubt, pull out.

This is the mentality shift that rugby has gone through. Back when Payne was sent off, we all were surprised because Payne’s was not a dirty, malevolent act, just an unfortunate collision. Nowadays, misfortune is punished too, whether dirty or malevolent or not – and Mako Vunipola suffered a first red card of his career by dint of the same mental shift.

The rash of red cards that has entered the game is not sightly, but the way the game is examined is much clearer now than it used to be, and it will eventually be a bit safer and cleaner as a result.

Women liberated

It’s not on at the most sociable of hours always, but the Women’s Rugby World Cup is serving up some fantastic fare.

From England’s 14-try romp past Fiji to the nervy win for Wales over Scotland, the quality has been far, far superior to anything seen at any previous World Cups.

Few expect anything other than an England-New Zealand final, for which Eden Park is likely to be sold out; also something unthinkable for the women’s game a few short years ago. If France, Australia, Canada, and the USA can all kick on and make the scene a little more competitive, the women’s game will be here to stay, which is good news for all observers if the current quality is maintained as well.

The next day of reckoning

Lawrence Dallaglio is a canny observer of the game, but his suggestion that Wasps is too big a name to fail last week was both insensitive and well wide of the mark.

Insensitive, in making that remark in a week when scores of people at Worcester have lost their jobs because of the club’s failure, and well wide of the mark because it must, must not be true if rugby is to regain the credibility lost to the Worcester debacle.

Fact is, Wasps overstretched. Covid has not helped – determining how damaging it was is going to be crucial to the club’s survival – but even at the time, the issue of 35m of bonds to fund expansion seemed a bit wishful in thinking, in an age where nearly all clubs were losing money hand over fist.

Clubs, no matter how historically-weighted, have a duty to be run responsibly and sustainably. If Wasps are shown to have overstretched themselves financially and are no longer able to function as a result, then that is the fate they have consigned themselves to. Unfortunate, but what it is.

If the club is somehow excused that fate on the basis of how historically relevant it is, then you’d forgive Worcester for exiting the game completely, while all clubs will have been given further licence to chuck non-existent cash around.

Loose Pass does not want it to happen. At all. Hopefully the damage done to the accounts by the pandemic will outweigh any fiscal irresponsibility by the club’s administrators. But for the sake of the game, this has to be judged on facts and not sentiment. Wasps must not be too big to fail.

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