Loose Pass: The start of Super Rugby Pacific and some Six Nations questions

Lawrence Nolan
Super Rugby Pacific and Six Nations trophies image 2024.jpg

The Super Rugby Pacific and Six Nations trophies.

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with Super Rugby Pacific and some Six Nations questions…

Rebels without a cause

It would likely be extremely accurate to describe the current sense of expectation to the onset of Super Rugby Pacific in Australia as lukewarm.

A national union barely recovered from a World Cup disaster and a franchise teetering on the edge of a financial abyss is not the sort of profile that is likely to put bums on seats in sports-mad Australia and while a number of fans are at least casting out positive messages such as ‘go down swinging’, the current plight of the team that is arguably Australia’s strongest on paper is unlikely to encourage the fans, whose disappearance partly led to the mess, to return.

The hope is that the locals in Melbourne rally to AAMI Park on Friday night now that tickets are finally on sale – now that the franchise has finally been able to convince the operators of AAMI Park that they can fulfil their obligations – but it would probably encourage the locals more if there were some form of strategy being bandied around on the eve of the new season rather than just the current “we’ll decide in six months” motto.

“…players need certainty, staff need certainty, high-performance staff need certainty,” said Rugby Australia CEO Phil Waugh earlier in the week.

“The sooner we can get to an outcome with all the different stakeholders on what the path forward looks like for 2025, the better it’s going to be for our people.”

It’s a 2025 that could be a double-edged sword for Waugh and his union. The British and Irish Lions will doubtless be a source of a much-needed cash injection to Rugby Australia, but another series defeat would also be another reason for the locals to cast eyes across to rugby league or AFL.

Rugby Australia will publish – goodness only knows why the word ‘socialised’ was chosen for that – the findings of the review into the World Cup debacle this weekend as well which, along with what might be a bit of a damning fly-on-the-wall documentary from the World Cup, makes this one a huge one for Australian rugby’s public relations efforts.

The visible damage to the Wallabies’ brand, the pervading undercurrent of financial uncertainty and the review – and proffered solutions – of why it’s all going a bit wrong will all be on show.

Waugh neglected to mention that, of all the stakeholders needing certainty, fans also do. They need certainty not only that tickets to the game will be on sale, but also that teams will be competitive, well-run and actively managed. This weekend’s shows on and off the pitch will reveal how much trust the fans have in Rugby Australia’s ability to provide such certainties; it’ll likely set the tone for the next few months.

The new onside

As well as Australia’s trials this weekend, an interesting new law tweak will also see the light of day, with the intention of the new law to end the meandering spells of kicking which blighted stretches of Scotland v France last week.

The law as it is currently states that a player in front of a kicker can be deemed onside once the fielder of the kicked ball has run five metres, meaning that in practice (and as long as they were 10m away from where the kick was fielded) they can hang around in front of the kicker while the kicker hangs back ready for the kick return.

Now, anybody in front of the kicker must remain inactive until a team-mate who came from behind the kicker – or the kicker himself – plays them onside.

The hope is that the receivers have a little more freedom and time to launch counter-attacks; trials have been largely positive although in practice there is the potential for the middle of the park to become a bit more of an obstacle course of large forwards, while a likely increase in up-and-unders as kick options might not be the intended consequence either. But it is definitely an improvement both on the game play and complexity of the current practicalities of the law.

There are other law trials on show too, not least a 20-minute red card, the retreat of the offside line for scrum-halves to the tunnel rather than the ball and a golden point overtime spell for drawn matches, all of which will be worth watching for their effects.

Six Nations questions loom

France – Lucu or Le Garrec?

Ireland – How high can they go?

England – Is it really worth bringing back Manu Tuilagi?

Wales – How damaging would a hammering in Dublin be?

Scotland – Will a defeat to England be the start of a looming crisis?

Italy – How will they cope with the loss of Tommaso Allan?

READ MORE: Five bold Super Rugby Pacific predictions including a shake-up in hierarchy and Fijian Drua