Loose Pass: The Pro D2 in all its glory and bold Rugby World Cup predictions

Cyril Blanchard of Vannes celebrates with teammates after the French championship, Pro D2 rugby union match between RC Vannes and Provence Rugby - Springboks Damian Willemse and RG Snyman celebrate after beating the All Blacks in the Rugby World Cup warm-up match Credit: Alamy
Cyril Blanchard of Vannes celebrates with teammates after the French championship, Pro D2 rugby union match between RC Vannes and Provence Rugby - Springboks Damian Willemse and RG Snyman celebrate after beating the All Blacks in the Rugby World Cup warm-up match Credit: Alamy

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with downtime in France over the next few weeks, a couple of interesting law moments and Loose Pass’ World Cup predictions…

Alternative World Cup activities

As Loose Pass, like so many others in the rugby world, kicked his heels with bored impatience this weekend past, his extremely patient partner said with no little mock sympathy: “There must be some rugby on to watch?”

And it turned out, there was. Loose Pass spent fair portions of the past weekend giving the third weekend of the Pro D2 the once-over, returning with a verdict of ‘tremendous fun’.

Provence and Nevers set the tone for the weekend with a thrilling game that finished 37-34 to the former (who came back from 24-6 down), while the only game where the losing side did not grab a bonus point was Aurillac’s home defeat to Vannes.

The ‘prime time’ game for the cameras was Mont-de-Marsan’s visit to Agen on Friday, a match pitting two teams with realistic promotion aspirations against each other. It was breathless fun, with most players from both teams trying all manner of tricks and flicks to prise the other open.

Mont-de-Marsan’s opening try was the end product of a quite outrageous flick off the ground by the tighthead prop, while the lead-up to Agen’s second try was a furious comedy of errors punctuated by a sumptuous crossfield kick. If the second half featured no tries, it was not for the want of trying, and all to the tune of ‘Freed from Desire’ (among other classics) being played by the resident brass band.

To say that the way the French second tier presents and organises itself shows up everything that is wrong about the way that others neglect their second tiers is invidious; French club rugby has a lot of practical advantages that come merely from being in France, but it’s still something to aspire to.

Raucous fans who never stop singing, a few tasty dust-ups, frantic pace and smiles everywhere along the sidelines. For those of you, like Loose Pass, who might be taking an extended holiday in France for some of the next few weeks but are not sure what to do when the World Cup isn’t on, it’d be well worth seeing if there’s a Pro D2, or even a Nationale (third-tier) game, or even a Federale 1 game in the near environment (and the schedulers have kindly ensured there are minimal clashes). Whatever it is or isn’t in terms of finesse, it is extremely likely to be fun.

Interesting points of law

As well as being fun as described above, the Agen game also conjured up a couple of law talking points.

Mont-de-Marsan had a try disallowed shortly before half-time, ostensibly for a forward pass or knock-on, but it was incredibly difficult to see where.

There were three instances where the ball might have moved forward. During the first one, a Mont-de-Marsan player juggled the ball, trying to catch it, having initially tried to catch it behind him. The ball did indeed move forward from his initial attempt but looked as though it had moved onto his own body, which would thus count as a continued attempt to catch it.

Once he had the ball under control, he then passed it to an open player. The pass itself was extremely flat, and could well have been the reason the try was disallowed. When the pass arrived, it bounced before it was picked up. Whatever the movement of the pass before it was picked up, it quite clearly bounced forward in the air before it was picked up.

It was replayed for the TMO numerous times, and from numerous angles, which makes it hard to believe that the try was disallowed for a forward pass. But unfortunately, the sound quality of Loose Pass’ questionable TV stream was not good, and it was impossible to hear what the officials were saying to each other. But: if not for a forward pass, then where was the knock-on?

Knock-on: When a player loses possession of the ball, and it goes forward, or when a player hits the ball forward with the hand or arm, or when the ball hits the hand or arm and goes forward, and the ball touches the ground or another player before the original player can catch it.

So it can’t have been when the first player juggled it, as nobody else touched it. And crucially, it is what the hand or arm does to the ball that counts, not what the ball does because it is oval. If the hand or arm does not knock the ball forward, but it bounces forward, it is not a knock-on. So unless there was a forward pass, it should have been a try. Little wonder Mont-de-Marsan coach Patrick Milhet was visibly seething at the time – it would have put his side ahead at the break.

Earlier in the game, Agen had already gained a strange penalty. A high ball went up, and the Mont-de-Marsan player ran to where the ball was going to land and stood there for a moment with his hands ready to catch, but he did not jump. An Agen player, arriving milliseconds later, did jump, clattering into the stationary player as he did so and tipping off balance.

Bizarrely, the referee gave a penalty to Agen for taking the player out in the air, which would have been fine had the Mont-de-Marsan player been in motion or not looking at the ball, but it seems a bit harsh to be penalised for standing in place and waiting for a catch? ‘The player must be in a realistic position to catch the ball’ is the main stipulation for the fair contest – something likely to be very much in focus over the next couple of months.

Rugby World Cup Predictions!

Like you all, Loose Pass cannot wait – not least because of the soft spot for France that nestles just above Loose Pass’ heart. But also because this is set to be the most open, most exciting World Cup ever.

And it would not be the same without at least a quick contemplative gaze into a crystal ball and the confident proclamation of knowledge of what’s going to happen well before it actually has.

But here are five things Loose Pass thinks will happen over the next two months:

1. Fiji will make a semi-final: Having beaten Australia and Wales in the pool matches, Fiji will do a double over England in the quarter-finals and cement a legacy in the game forever.

2. Namibia will win a World Cup game: The draw hasn’t always been kind to the Welwitschias, with their most winnable game in 2003 against Romania tacked onto the back of Australia’s 142-0 drubbing just five days later – and that was back in the day when Romania were a good deal better than now. But the match-up against Uruguay represents a gilt-edged chance for the team to claim their maiden World Cup win. Two Tests between the pair this year finished with a close victory apiece.

3. Half the Six Nations: will be missing from the quarter-finals. None of Italy, Wales or Scotland will make it through.

4. The quarter-finals will feature SA v NZ and Ireland v France: It’s a crazy draw system that’s seen them all in the same half, but it is what it is. By the semi-finals, each hemisphere will have only its top team, not its top two teams in the hat.

5. South Africa will win it: There are four teams quite clearly ahead of all the rest, but the Boks are the only ones whose momentum has not been disrupted by stuttery form or injury.

En y va!!

READ MORE: Captain’s Call: Chris Robshaw and Sergio Parisse dissect Rugby World Cup Pool A

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