Loose Pass: Exciting weekend and Kearnan Myall’s words

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with the most interesting weekend of action for yonks and some sobering words from an ex-pro…

It’s tight at the top, but…

France rampant! Wales number one in the world! Italy winning by 80 points! Wallabies nilled by New Zealand! What an exciting weekend that was!

International rugby – and we grant, warm-ups are not the real thing – has never been so unpredictable. Even if you could have foreseen an All Black response, you’d not have laid money on a good old-fashioned nilling just seven days after they had shipped 40-plus. Nor, given their indifferent form for so long, would you have laid money on France suddenly squashing Scotland without sniff.

But there they both were. And yet despite New Zealand clearly showing that they are still the best in the world, there, too, are Wales, ranked number one in the world for the first time ever. A nation with a smaller population than the capital city of the team they just beat, is about to head into a World Cup as the top dog.

Yet it is a disservice to fail to acknowledge the potential implications of Italy’s win. Russia, hardly disgraced last time out, head to Japan to face a host nation in form, two countries who have routinely beaten Italy by some distance in the past few years and a Samoan team constantly touted as a banana-skin to all tier one nations. On the basis of this showing in San Benedetto, the Russians will sink without trace in Japan. Italy continue to make steady progress under Conor O’Shea, but they are not that good.

The gap between rugby’s haves and have-nots is continuing to grow and while the tier one nations continue to hold sway over any initiative from World Rugby to perhaps look at changing this, the game’s future will remain clenched in the fists of the few rather than spreading out further. There’s been talk of expanding the World Cup in the past, but if the bottom team of the Six Nations is sticking 80 onto one of its closest European challengers in terms of the same rankings that have Wales at number one in the world, that is not going to make a World Cup more interesting, it will merely be more processional.

Hopefully Russia will find their mojo and put on a decent showing. But while we get all excited about the flat hierarchy at the highest level, we should also get all concerned at the steep drop-off below.

Truly overwhelmed by all the messages of support. I was very nervous in the lead up to the article coming out, but hearing so many stories of others in similar positions has reinforced how important the issue is, both inside and outside of sport

— Kearnan Myall (@kearnanmyall) August 20, 2019

Mental illness is becoming an issue of culture

Sobering words from former Wasps and England Saxons lock Kearnan Myall this week, as his tale of struggles with depression and coping with pressure was thrust into the public domain.

There are clearly a lot of lessons to be learned from it – as the Rugby Players’ Association has acknowledged (and does a fine job of dealing with generally) – but the one that we found most disturbing was Myall’s account of his time in the England U18 squad.

“When I was 17 we’d get sent down to England’s U18 national academy camps in Bath,” he said.

“The training was horrific. They got it completely wrong. I did it for a year and was thinking: ‘I don’t want to play rugby any more’… So much time and money is spent on optimising 50% of an athlete’s life. Very little is spent on the rest.”

It is time this aspect became an integral part of World Rugby’s blueprints for coaching certificates. Professionalism in players does not seep down so far, but many a coach in charge of amateur teams is paid up, and thus has a professional responsibility to his charges.

Yet even at senior level and representative level in emerging countries, there remains a pointlessly unempathic attitude to genuine player concerns such as the one Myall also recounted about not sleeping so well – he was told to masturbate more for relaxation.

You can look at attitudes through the game, but as was once pointed out to me by a particularly successful coach: a coach is perhaps a person who will spend the most time with a young sports-playing person after that person’s parents. Would you want your son or daughter to be told to ‘jerk off more’ if he or she was trying to find out how to sleep better?

If Myall’s words can force a rethink in the minds of coaches and educators who are still stuck in an attitude decades out of date, if his words can force a rethink in culture which ensures players have their complete well-being taken into account rather than just their physical, he will have done the game a huge service.

Loose Pass compiled by Lawrence Nolan