Loose Pass: Time-wasting, the loss of a great voice and mystifying selection inconsistencies

David Skippers

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with time-wasting, the loss of a great voice and mystifying selection inconsistencies…

Time, gentlemen, please.

By Loose Pass’ calculations, it took 48 seconds of real time between Mathieu Raynal blowing his whistle for what ought to have been a game-clinching penalty for Australia, and the blow of the whistle that gave New Zealand a scrum and the chance to win the game.

That doesn’t sound like much, but we’d invite you now to start your stopwatch, get up, go and pour a coffee and then come back to the screen (this took Loose Pass 27 seconds). Or perhaps get up, go and change your socks and then come back to the screen (Loose Pass elapsed time 47 seconds). Maybe even get up, go run 300 metres as fast as you can and then come back to the screen (Loose Pass, at a somewhat stately age, was quite proud of his 46 seconds for this one).

If there is a little understanding because of the lack of precedent for Raynal’s decision from Loose Pass, there is not one iota of sympathy. When the whistle blew and the arm was up in the air, in rushed the Wallabies from all corners of the field: high-fives, hugs, chest-bumps, windmilling arms to the crowd to gee them up, all were on proud show. And still the game-clock ticked on.

It took Mr. Raynal 27 seconds to ask Australia to hurry it up a bit – Loose Pass knows this because he was back with his coffee just in time. If you cannot get a game restarted, injuries notwithstanding, in the time it takes someone to go and refill a coffee, there’s a problem with game-flow, plain and simple.

The only aspect that is not clear is why, three seconds later, Mr. Raynal called time off and restated his case, but presumably he, like us, had had enough of the Australians celebrating their ‘win’ when there was quite clearly more than a minute still left on the clock. It is more than likely that Foley asked some sort of question for ‘clarification’, such as which blade of grass to kick the ball from, or whether the line-out would definitely be Australia’s if he kicked it out. Perhaps he even asked if they were definitely playing on a Thursday.

Certainly Mr. Raynal’s patience was clearly taut when he called time off as a result. You don’t resort to niceties or euphemism when you talk in a foreign language and there was little to misunderstand about the words “I call time on, we play now ok? We play now.”

And then the whistle was blown for time on. Did we play? Of course not. Again we don’t know what Foley asked, but Mr. Raynal’s exasperated “YES” was that of a man at breaking point. The only one not to get this was Foley who, instead of kicking, stared vacantly back at his huddled forwards as if awaiting some miracle tactical nuance which might sway him from the standard kick to touch scenario.

The most damning piece of evidence at this point is the reaction of Australia’s backs. We couldn’t identify which one shouted “kick the **** ball out” but we all empathised. It might well have been that this was the trigger for Mr. Raynal’s whistle, but all those who plead that Foley was already shaping to kick are completely agnostic of the s***housery that went before it.

But most of all, this scenario is a reminder to all that you should choose your moments. There are far too many stoppages in modern rugby anyway, far too many huddles, far too many gamesmanship pauses, shoelaces coming untied and such. Much of them revolve around the set piece, all of which seem to be tolerated.

When that whistle went, Australia had 95 seconds to play. A boot to touch in reasonable time would have left them with probably 70 seconds for the forwards to amble up to the mark (25 seconds), have a huddle (10 seconds), await the call (another 10), and then there’s 25 to go. A much more convincing time-wasting façade than thinking about kicking a ball to touch in the same amount of time it takes an overweight forty-something to run 300 metres. If Australia cannot back themselves to run through a line-out and two organised phases of rugby to see out a game, then frankly, they should not deserve to win anything.

It was unprecedented, and for that alone, perhaps Mr. Raynal needs to be asked whether this was something that happened in the pressure of moment or whether this is a directive from above. And officiating directives can happen and have an effect and remarkable moments: ask Sam Warburton.

But it was not unwelcome. Loose Pass has talked before about the ridiculous over-celebrations of actions on the pitch and about the creep of gamesmanship and time-wasting into the game (or have we all forgotten that grotty Lions tour?). Those who would argue that clock-running acts such as Foley’s happen all the time (they do) should be countered with the assertion that the value of the time wasted differs in different situation and deserves to be treated differently as a consequence.

This was the right call. Hopefully it will be the precedent for many others.

Alas, Smith

The RFU has not done a fabulous job of many things recently, but refusing to allow Marcus Smith his run against Saracens is a real biscuit-taker of a decision when measured up against the players the RFU afforded ‘special release’ to over the past fortnight.

Not least Billy Vunipola, who is no stranger to an injury break, but who played more minutes for club and country last season than Smith, for example. Either way, Quins will, assuming Smith stays fit this season, be missing their key player for half a Premiership campaign because of his international commitments, which cannot be right if we are trying to grow the club game.

Exeter’s director of rugby Rob Baxter hit the nail on the head this week, saying: “It feels odd that we’ve allowed a system in this country [where it] has actually become quite difficult to have internationals, especially England players.

“To me it becomes odd when you have a system where the clubs that provide the England players, it feels bad, difficult, to have too many. It feels difficult to be a real supporter of the England team. That is a bit of an odd system.”

The voice of the valleys

The loss of Eddie Butler to rugby’s written columns and broadcast airwaves is huge. His was a fully unique style of communication, a precise choice of lyric and measured crescendo of half-sung excitement, which made every game richer.

The exchanges with Brian Moore thrived not just from Moore’s unhinged passion but from Butler’s gently amused detachment, and provided years of entertainment. Rugby is poorer for his passing.

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