Loose Pass: Steady on Wallabies, ‘pathetic bitchiness’ and All Blacks, Ireland and England’s ‘obvious weakness’

Lawrence Nolan
The Wallabies and All Blacks both won over the weekend.

The Wallabies and All Blacks both won over the weekend.

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with match speed, coach/TMO/referee relations and the French revolution…

A marker of progress

A ‘golden era kicks off at last’ was one of the headlines written about Australia’s win over Wales at the weekend.

Hmmmm. Australia eased past a Wales side currently at the bottom of a vertiginous rebuilding process and currently ranked tenth in the world. They did so largely courtesy of a moment of X-factor brilliance and an extremely debatable TMO decision. Better than Wales the Wallabies were. A lot better they were not.

The better benchmark of all four teams that contested the first of Saturday’s Tests would be to compare match with match. Coming straight after the compelling viewing that was New Zealand v England, the second match in Sydney sometimes seemed to be played at about 80 per cent speed. Rucks in Dunedin were over faster. Passes zippier, forwards fleeter of foot and attacking shapes more dynamic. While both of the games were competitive and enjoyable, it was also hard not to juxtapose them and consider that if they were in a four-team league, you were watching the top two head-to-head, followed by the bottom two.

Despite all that, it is difficult to underestimate how important this win was for Australia. A car crash of a year in 2023, the subsequent dissolution of a Super franchise, a confident-looking British and Irish Lions on the horizon (not to mention the 2027 Rugby World Cup) and an A$89m debt have combined to leave Australian rugby staring into an abyss. Grabbing a win against anybody would have been a lift; against a country which gave the Wallabies a record World Cup pasting nine months prior will have been a big fillip.

It will mean nothing if not backed up this coming weekend, however, as well as with a good win against Georgia the following week. Then, and only then, we can talk about something golden.

Choice words or chosen words

There was without a doubt a lot of referee decision debate to be had this weekend past. Were TMOs being to pernickety? Interfering too much? Not enough? Were some teams getting all the marginal calls over their opposition?

The answer to all four questions above is: absolutely. A couple of tackles and clearouts looked at the very least TMO-worthy, while the Welsh and Irish tries that were ruled out were both done so on the basis of actions which are seen and allowed week in, week out around the rugby world.

But none of the coaches really talked about it all that much? Andy Farrell said he wanted consistency, but he says that every week and it’s really not all that outlandish to say. Warren Gatland said he wasn’t sure about the decision not to allow a try made and lamented the fact that he was not getting the 50-50 calls, but those are also things every coach and player will say every week.

‘We would have felt aggrieved’ – Jaco Peyper weighs in on crucial TMO decisions during Springboks v Ireland

There’s euphemisms of course, but too much of the post-match this weekend past has focussed on asking coaches about referees when the initial comments didn’t go in that direction, then turning neutral statements into perceived euphemisms and then creating loud headlines about those euphemisms that barely existed.

We’re in an age of the belated realisation that referees are people too and really ought to be left alone to do what is a remarkably difficult job, yet the headlines keep going in that direction. It’s disappointing, even if it spares us the pathetic bitchiness of a sprinkling of pundits swinging fluffy verbal handbags at each other: also something of which there was far too much last week.

Yet to be honest, give us the bitches. Better that than pointing at referees in the wake of a weekend where every team on show had at least one obvious weakness to remedy.

Better still, better than either of those things, let’s actually pick apart the weaknesses. Wales are missing some X-factor and general pace and power. Ireland’s defence was slower than usual. Both Ireland and England struggled at scrum-time. New Zealand found England extremely hard to break down, which should worry them ahead of South Africa. All reasons for imperfection which were nothing to do with the referee…

The third degree

It ended up as a bit of a post-scriptum to the weekend for many, but the achievement of what was essentially a third-string French team should not be underestimated.

In a troubled week for the nation generally – and Melvyn Jaminet’s bizarre and asinine video fitted into the narrative of extreme and strangeness in France – the rugby team, shorn of 25-odd front-liners, comprehensively outplayed their near full-strength hosts with half a starting XV of debutantes.

For all the disappointment of France’s 2023 World Cup exit, none of the French fans should forget that the bulk of the side of 2023 will be back for another shot in 2027. And for those who are not back in 2027… well, Saturday showed the depths of reserves. Not since the New Zealand generation of c. 2005 onwards has a nation possessed such a deep well of talent.

READ MORE: Razor Watch: Out with the rust, attacking fix and employing a ‘Springboks tactic’ for Eden Park Test