Loose Pass: July’s physical toll, inconsistency, eye-raisers and some new questions

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 Credit: PA Images
Credit: PA Images

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with the physical toll of this July, living with inconsistency, the less talked-about eye-raisers from the weekend and new questions for the last Test weekend…

Bodies everywhere

An ill-timed bout of Covid and its ubiquitous friend, the raging fever, meant that Loose Pass perhaps took more time than most to truly digest what happened in the rugby world this weekend. Was it just the product of one of those vivid feverish dreams? At what point would I wake up in a puddle of sweat, look at my phone and sink back with a resigned sigh of reality?

The answer, as we all now know, is never, just as never is the answer to how many times the northern hemisphere has swept clean the southern hemisphere during the June/July Test window. A truly astonishing weekend of rugby for all.

At what cost is still being counted. England have barely any back-rowers left, Australia have lost at least half a team to injury in the two matches alone. Ireland can look back on their first ever win in New Zealand with deserved pride, but their management of head injuries has been openly, and rightly, questioned all tour. Wales’ injury problems pre-tour were well-documented, a third Test of the physical intensity they just faced will likely leave the squad decimated; the sight of Dan Biggar shirking tackles because of the injury he was carrying gives an idea of both the physical ask and the relatively limited strength in depth. Only Scotland seem to have emerged relatively unscathed, but Saturday’s win was against an Argentina team clearly nowhere near its most intense best yet. The northern hemisphere teams may have left it all out there over the weekend; whether they’ll have anything to leave out there this Saturday is debatable.

None of this is entirely unexpected, this is rugby after all. Yet by the time the tours are over, we are only eight weeks away from the Premiership season (and presumably, the United Rugby Championship) and seven from the Top 14, both of which run through to the end of May/middle of June, after which begins World Cup preparation. It’s a hell of a load to inflict upon any body, no matter how highly-trained. South Africa’s players must still go through the Rugby Championship before getting a break as well.

The most worrying statistics of all in general are the head injuries. Premiership Rugby has registered its highest-ever number of concussions this season past (in part probably due to increased observation) while the number of head injuries in these tours alone has shot up – and that’s only the ones officially registered. How Johnny Sexton was not automatically classified as concussed and stood down for the mandatory 12 days is mystifying, with the explanation given about the three-stage HIA system lending credence only to the theory that it is a system that can be played.

So much has been made and written about aligning the calendars and globalising them, but the one thing that has not happened, that really needed to happen, is the reduction in workload for the players. Instead we now have players flying between hemispheres while they try to recover from games, while the competition format designed in order to stuff the European Cup into the calendar’s already ample overhang is a plain mess.

It’s been a great weekend for the game when the international playing field looks so level. But the attritional rate of the ambition might be a high price to pay.

Time to live with it

A few of the notes taken down by Loose Pass began with phrases like ‘yellow? Really?’ or ‘inconsistent – needs review’ and other such criticisms. But there’s simply no point any more. If a TMO and three match officials can watch Ellis Genge use his body weight to push Nic White’s face into the turf with his forearm – enough force to make White’s neck twist in the process – and not consider it yellow card-worthy, but that same officiating team can watch Izaia Perese track a ball through the air and clearly make a genuine attempt to catch it yet deem that action worthy of a yellow card, then we have to know we are not in a good place. The same applied to Leicester Fainga’anuku’s ludicrous dive-bomb attack (how was it not red) and Angus Ta’avao’s tackle (tough to know what else he could have done). Accidents are being punished as though malicious, mistakes punished as though cynical, malice given the benefit of the doubt because the game is physical. We’re not getting better here.

Elsewhere…

A couple of honourable mentions outside of the ‘big four’, firstly to Japan, who gave France – the new world number ones lest we forget – a real run for their money.

Also to Namibia, who were peerless throughout their qualification from the Rugby Africa Cup to the Rugby World Cup in France this week, capping off a fine week of performance with a nilling of Kenya in the Final.

Also to Spain, who ran up 57 points in Canada to decimate the hosts, who are having a torrid time at the moment.

But most of all, props to Georgia, whose win over Italy, with both teams at or close to full strength is extremely indicative of the narrowing in gaps between the top sides and the chasing pack.

It is, as coach Levan Maisashvili lamented afterwards, unlikely to lead to a change in top-tier tournaments, the economics simply don’t work in Georgia’s favour. But it does raise hope that countries such as Georgia and the Pacific Islands can continue to improve despite the lack of regular top-tier exposure and create a couple of similar stories in France next year. That pool with Wales, Australia, Fiji and Georgia for example.., or England, Argentina, Japan and Samoa…

This week’s questions

How will New Zealand react? That would once have been a foregone conclusion, but something is different at the moment.

Can Wales repeat the job against South Africa’s first team (NB, a second team featuring Eben Etzebeth and Andre Esterhuizen is not really a second team to be honest)?

Will England have 15 men standing at the end of the third Test?

Will Australia?

What do Argentina have in response?

READ MORE: July internationals Team of the Week: Ireland lead the way after historic win over All Blacks

The article Loose Pass: July’s physical toll, inconsistency, eye-raisers and some new questions appeared first on Planetrugby.com.

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