Loose Pass: Momentum, controversy and a financial mess

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with a critical moment for Ireland, rugby players as targets, and the rest of the future…

Warm-ups

Many eyes will obviously be on the Premiership this weekend as Gloucester and Northampton attempt to break the two-team grip on English club rugby.

But at Celtic Park, a much more interesting match will take place when Glasgow take on Leinster in the PRO14 final, carrying with it serious implications for World Cup momentum.

Leinster have an obvious agenda: put what went wrong in Newcastle right and get some silverware. But as our analyst Sam Larner has already pointed out this week, for Glasgow it is the chance to show that their own brand of all-out rugby creativity can win games just as much as plaudits.

We’ll see. The smart money is probably on Leinster – home advantage Glasgow may have, but huge winning experience is not in their make-up. Yet.

But with Scotland v Ireland looming as both the opening and the pivotal fixture in Pool A (although first and second in the group will line up against one of the Boks or All Blacks, so which one of those to avoid is Hobson’s choice), this match will be important for both international teams in terms of momentum.

For Ireland especially, this is not a year that has so far delivered what it looked like delivering. The national side was roundly trounced by both Wales and England while Leinster, although impressing, ran out of steam against the indomitable Saracens.

The similarities between Leinster’s style of rugby and Ireland’s are deep, and although on their day both sides are tough to beat, it’s hard not to suspect that the possession-hoarding game both play is under fire from defences getting up to season-end sharpness. Both Saracens and Wales dug in firm, let their Irish opponents wear themselves out, then delivered clinical strikes to see games off. Leinster and Ireland tried everything but could not find a strategy to overcome their opponents’ efficiency.

Glasgow won’t be doing efficiency. But they will pose a different threat, a strategic extreme in the other direction, one of creativity and unique attacking products. It will give Leinster, and by extension, Ireland, a new test of resolve, as well as giving Scotland a few pointers.

It’ll also give the observer a few pointers for World Cup form.

This generation simply needs to beware

It’s been a while since we recall a soccer star in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Partly, of course, this is due to the fact that we don’t read the soccer pages. But it’s also partly down to the fact that soccer seems to have wised up to the social media generation, that its players are more savvy, and that its players also do well at not putting themselves in the firing line.

Israel Folau’s career has come to an end because of his insistence at using social media to air his beliefs (NOT, it should be stressed, because of his beliefs themselves). Several other players are in hot water for Instagram posts. Tweets and posts are quickly snapped up by an outrage-fuelled global sharing culture and bad news inevitably follows.

Now it’s players on a night out in South Africa who have been, it must be said, somewhat insubstantially, accused of ‘aggressive behaviour’ (whatever that actually means) and other such… behaviour…

The Crusaders boys probably had a few beers. And they were out. And they grabbed some fast food. And, in the glaring lights of McDonald’s in the early hours, they were probably goaded a bit by some other guys who had had a few beers. And there was probably a bit of a confrontation (not enough, it seems, to perturb the staff or security of the restaurant). And there, it seems, was enough fuel for someone to insist they had been offended by some star rugby players.

It’s not a pleasant media era we are in. But it is the one we are in. And rugby players at the top level, despite the glaring need, both cultural and mental, for a few beers after games, have to quickly get savvy about the dangers of public appearances. With soccer players either clever or wrapped up in so much PR cotton wool, rugby players in some locations are the new stars whose every move on a night out can be splashed over the pages of an eager tabloid press. This generation needs to be much more careful than its predecessor.

D-Day part 190658809243956912…

As this column is written, the World Rugby council is meeting in Dublin, attempting to resolve the debate around the international calendar and the somewhat ill-conceived Nations Championship.

In a couple of weeks, England’s clubs will meet to discuss the possibility of a 13-team Premiership. And then there’s Super Rugby, which keeps turning itself inside and out, and not finding a good resolution to the incalculable mess that is the current conference set-up.

Much of the money that has poured into the game over the past 25 years has been well-spent, but much has been wasted also. Welsh rugby at sub-international level is a mess. Scottish also. If the Premiership is in rude health, the same cannot be said for the RFU’s finances. South Africa’s player drain is reaching epic levels. French rugby is overrun with so many foreign players that the national team is less good than some of its club teams. Clubs everywhere are running annual unsustainable losses. And et cetera.

Hopefully the next couple of months starts to give us some good-looking solutions. On the pitch, rugby is doing fine, but off it, there is too much uncertainty.

Loose Pass compiled by Lawrence Nolan