Loose Pass: Leinster and Jacques Nienaber make ‘childish mockery’ of World Rugby laws

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with growing international selection conundrums, the ridiculous waterboy loophole and the memories of a European classic…

Who’s playing where, when and for whom?

As the seasons develop financially, expand, shift borders and competitions chop, change and re-bear, it seems logical to consider that teams are going to be both confused and confounded by the increasingly odd wrangle of eligibility regulations and funding criteria.

However, the image has rarely seemed as complicated or delicate as it does right now, especially in the last few months.

Think about New Zealand. This season, two requests to bring senior All Blacks back into the Super Rugby play-offs have come from Super Rugby teams. The fact that both requests were turned down—one due to World Rugby rules, the other to a straightforward desire to see a contract through—makes a great deal of sense. The fact that the teams even entertained the possibility of it is somewhat unbelievable, but it also validates a hunch that teams will attempt it due to the different time zones, seasons, hemispheres, and other factors.

Additionally, it validates the feeling that something is off with New Zealand, which for the last 20 years has been a prolific and conveyor-belt producer of elite talent. There are many talented young players available, but Scott Robertson faces a challenging generational transition given the recent deepening political rifts between the national union, the players’ union, and the provinces. It’s impossible for anybody to think that the younger players, or even Robertson, are being given enough trust to manage that transition on their own given the persistent undercurrent of cries for the established squad to come back and lead them over the closing stretch of the season.

Instead of going to Europe for a payday too early in their careers, All Blacks in the latter stages of their careers were supposed to take sabbaticals in Japan as a relative year off to refresh up, earn some decent green, and return to New Zealand for the next season. However, that structure appears to be bending as well, with New Zealand teams—and possibly even Robertson himself—looking to bring players back on short notice.

Next, think about England.Without a doubt, Jack Willis is the greatest openside flanker in England right now, but he is currently based in France and is not likely to return, which makes it even less probable that he will play for England.

Chances are high he is better paid in Toulouse than he might be able to get under the salary cap, even if he were to be proffered the carrot of a dual contract. But his soundbites in the wake of the European Cup triumph made it sound better than only monetary. Although winning things tends to make people happy, Willis appeared content the entire time he was asked about his chances of playing for England, not only after a European victory.

It stands in stark contrast to the soundbites of those who may be eligible for many contracts, or who are far from confident of their place in England. Henry Arundell conveys a same message over and time again.

How long can the RFU resist the temptation to let players to go, as Wales has been compelled to do (do we really need to go there? ), especially in light of the fact that the number of professional teams that are still in operation appears to be in precarious territory?

And recently you’d have to consider Ireland, where one team is functioning just fine but, due to a large number of reasons, not all of them directly to do with rugby, it seems to be functioning just fine at the expense of the others. No problem with exits there so far, but if the resources currently concentrated at Leinster were to be evenly distributed among Irish provinces, would any of these teams be as competitive as Leinster currently are? There There are disagreements on both sides, and they are becoming louder. If Ireland’s national team continues to struggle, they will get much louder.

The beginning of the global club, provincial, and franchise competition is paving the way for peace on that level as well, and we are getting closer to a worldwide international season. However, protectionism and complicated restrictions are impeding players’ aspirations across nations, and some are even chopping off noses to spite faces, resulting in a confusing maze of eligibility and selection dynamics that bewilder everyone.

The basic line is this, though: wouldn’t you long for Willis’ current situation to be as simple as it is, if you were a player?

Keep the coaches off

Coaches acting as waterboys was perhaps amusing briefly, it became irritating when brazenly exploited by Rassie Erasmus, it’s boring and frustrating in equal measure now.

That Jacques Nienaber was allowed to carry water because his official title is ‘senior coach’ makes a childish mockery of the rule that World Rugby updated in 2022. It’s simple disrespect and he and Leinster ought to be censured for it.

In the meanwhile, it would be very simple to amend the regulation to require teams to choose one or more water-carriers prior to a game (after all, how much water do they all need?). and not one of them was assigned to a coaching staff at the beginning of a season.

Instead than serving as a platform for control freaks to offer directions at every opportunity, games are meant to be an assessment of how well players can play, considering both the instructions they are given and their own ability to respond to the situations that arise. It would be fantastic if we could better control this and penalize individuals who try to flout the law by using legal sleight of hand.

The Grand Finale

When the smoke cleared, there was still breathlessness. Never has a final set the pulse racing for Loose Pass as much as Saturday’s did – as a neutral observer anyway. It was rugby at its rawest, with the handling errors under the defensive pressure adding to the spectacle rather than detracting.

The referees performed a fantastic job officiating the game. A special mention should go to the TMO, who examined three different angles frame by frame before determining beyond a reasonable doubt that the Leinster try will stand despite contradicting evidence.

It served as a reminder that attempts are not the only way to experience excitement. Even while almost everyone agrees that the game was spectacular and of high quality, the statistic that the first try occurred in extra time still makes people pause in shock.

We must be doing well as a sport if we can have competitions where games like the Harlequins’ victory in Bordeaux populate the knockout stages and lead to finales like this.

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