Black & White: The Paul Williams Column

Adam Redmond
04 October 2018

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Each game week Paul Williams’ ‘Black & White’ column will take a look around the world of the Guinness PRO14. Known to many supporters for his contributions to Rugby World, his obsession for the game and his notorious tennis elbow, Paul will bring his unique takes on rugby to ahead of each round. With no grey areas, entertainment and enlightenment are assured, but be careful, you might actually learn something too! For more make sure to follow him on Twitter  @thepaulwilliams

Mun the Merciless

Ulster rotated their squad to face Munster and paid a hefty price. It was like watching rugby’s version of The Purge, where the weak were eradicated by the ruthless. Munster racked up nine tries, had a 100% completion at the scrum, and lineout, and made a stunning 23 line-breaks – that’s Super Rugby numbers.

Keith Earls had an immaculate return on the wing, seemingly never losing his balance regardless of the speed or freakshow body angles that he manages to contort his body into. Alex Wootton was equally impressive on the other wing – carrying 111m, beating four defenders and making five clean breaks.

But as fine as the wings played, Peter Mahony was, as always, the benchmark. His workload was ridiculous – hitting each ruck and maul as though they’d made fun of his mother. But perhaps the most laudable aspect of the Munster performance was that they played at full intensity for 80 minutes, when the game was won after 50. Few teams, other than the All Blacks, do that. Well played, Munster.

Ospreys Flying Under the Radar

That the Ospreys are flying under the radar isn’t a comment on birds-of-prey adapting their flight patterns to avoid the RAF, but instead describes how the former giants of Welsh regional rugby are going about their business in the 2018/19 season. There was a point when the Ospreys WERE regional rugby in Wales and at one time, they were nearly the entire starting Welsh XV – Gatland picked 13 Ospreys in his first Welsh starting XV.

But those days are long gone. With the Scarlets winning league titles and progressing in the Champions’ Cup, and Cardiff Blues winning the Challenge Cup, the Ospreys have fallen down the media interest ladder. Even their summer signings were lower profile. George North and Scott Williams are tremendous test players, and global names in their own right, but neither of them is exactly Jerry Collins in their global appeal.

Rhys Webb left and instead of splashing the cash on a big-name Kiwi, as they would have done in the past, Aled Davies was chosen as his replacement. But the low-key Ospreys are delivering a high-win ratio. Baring Leinster and Glasgow, four wins from five is the envy of the league. Sam Davies has been assured as the starting ten and George North looks like he loves rugby again – he has been unplayable on occasions.

But by far the highlight of the Ospreys’ opening weeks has been Justin Tipuric. There is no better fusion of forward and back play currently playing rugby at the moment. Well played, Ospreys. And well played, Justin T.

Stamping Has Never Been Part of the Game

It is understandable that some players and supporters don’t know all of rugby’s laws. Some of rugby’s laws last as long as Eddie Jones’ backroom staff – straight feeds at the scrum being a classic example. Some things that were acceptable last season, such as shoulder-height tackles are no longer allowed this season.

There are, however, some offences that have never been a part of rugby – and stamping on a player’s neck is one of those. Even back in the days of rucking, when boots-on-bodies was allowed, putting studs on someone’s head or neck was a no-no.

Dominic Robertson-McCoy’s stamp on Josh van der Flier has no place in the game. He wasn’t moving forward rapidly, and he wasn’t stepping over a player; he stepped backwards and recklessly made contact with an opponent’s neck. There’s nothing brave about stamping on a prone opponent and it runs counter to all of the great characteristics that we cherish about rugby.

If Donald Trump played the game, this would be his go-to move. Roberston-McCoy will now sit it out for six weeks – which is the best he could have hoped for in the circumstances – and he will have to tread very carefully next time he steps on a the pitch.

The Fox is Back!

Even amongst the standout performances of Huw Jones and Garry Ringrose, Jon Davies was the finest centre in week five. And not just the finest outside centre. Such was the regularity with which he received the ball at 12, from set piece, it could be argued that he was the best 12 and 13 in the league this weekend.

Although this shouldn’t distract from Paul Asquith who was super solid at 12 for the Scarlets. Given his long-term absence, it was a remarkable display from Davies. Anecdotally, he looks at least 4kg lighter than last season, and it shows. Davies scored two tries, beat five defenders and didn’t miss a single tackle. But by far the most impressive statistic was the metres carried – 108m in total. That is a massive number from a centre.

Unlike the back three, centres don’t tend to have cheap carries from deep, every yard is carried through tight defensive chains. Add to that Davies’ ability to stand up in the tackle, together with his relatively recent improvement in passing and offloading, and you have one of the best centres in the world. Great to see you back, Jon.

Carbery, Sorry Wootton, Delivers the Try of the Week

Garry Ringrose scored one of those beautiful outside-arc tries that make the Brian O’ Driscoll comparisons so hard to avoid. Adam Warren used his head twice to score a fantastic individual try – once to cleverly kick ahead and once by using his facial skin to bring his body to a standstill over the try line. But the try of the weekend must go Alex Wootton. Officially, he is only listed as scoring one try, but he really deserved two. His inside pass to Joe Carbery was fantastic.

On first inspection it looked speculative, even loose, but it wasn’t. All wings now realise that a pass inside, regardless of the quality, is a better option than stepping over the touchline and conceding the throw into the opposition. It was a fantastic bit of play from Wootton and iced a devastating team display.

All Eyes On – Joey Carbery

Guinness PRO14 tries of the week, Round Five

There are some massive games in the Guinness PRO14 this weekend, but week six is all about Joe Carbery playing against Leinster. He’s got feet like a strobe-light and one of the best passes in Europe. But now he needs to do it against his former employer, and more importantly against the most complete ten in world rugby, Jonny Sexton. Add this to the Welsh derbies, and a fantastic weekend awaits.

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