Black & White: The Paul Williams Column

Adam Redmond
08 November 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 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 pro14rugby.org. With no grey areas, entertainment and enlightenment are assured. For more make sure to follow him on Twitter  @thepaulwilliams

Southern Kings Show Strength, if not Depth

The Isuzu Southern Kings may be sixth in Conference B and they may have lost to Leinster by 31-38, but it was a remarkable show of determination. To put their performance into perspective we must mention that they had four yellow cards. Yup, four. That’s more yellow than even Coldplay have seen. For a team faced with 40 mins of players in the bin, to come within 8 points of winning is noteworthy. To do it against Leinster, albeit a weakened Leinster, is next-level stuff. It may be that yellow cards don’t affect the Southern Kings as much as other teams.

 

Their strategy is focussed on rapid counter-attacks – for which 15 players isn’t always required. With many counter-attack tries using less than seven players, having four yellow cards didn’t really affect the Southern Kings’ ability to score tries. They scored five tries in total, equal with Leinster. They carried the ball further (476m v 452), made four clean breaks more and beat three additional defenders than Leinster. But perhaps the most impressive stat is the number of offloads – 17 to 6. When the Southern Kings offload the ball at the rate they do, they aren’t reliant on big ruck-clean-outs and carrying pods, they keep the ball moving and more importantly moving into space.

Let’s not forget that they lost, but it was as positive a defeat as you can get. Well played, Kings.


Mata’s Stock Continues to Rise

Viliame Mata is becoming a favourite in this column. His consistency of performance is almost unmatched in the Guinness PRO14. As with all of his performances this season, his stint against the Scarlets was immaculate. 82 metres carried is a big number for a No 8. But whilst his 15-20 metre-breaks catch the eye, it is the persistent five-metre carries that Richard Cockerill will be so pleased about. With the relatively lightweight Scarlets’ backrow carrying for just 11 metres between them, Mata dominated the gainline. But these weren’t basic, bludgeoning carries.

With the use of his sevens background and neat footwork, that moves the contact point, Mata seems to bring the gainline to him, as opposed to him having to go to it. Despite only being at Edinburgh for two seasons, he is gradually moving beyond the ‘good-overseas-signing’ bracket. If he can maintain these performances, he’ll move into the bracket that Xavier Rush, Regan King, Isa Nacewa and other legends overseas have occupied. Edinburgh need to sign Mata on a long-term deal, otherwise someone else will.


Hanno Dirksen – Hard to Stop

Hanno Dirksen was once talked about as a potential Welsh player. His first few seasons at the Ospreys were impressive, but as with many professional players, injuries often supersede potential. However, despite the injuries, week eight of the Guinness PRO14 saw Dirksen back to his best. It may have been in defeat, but Dirksen’s performance was one of the displays of the week – 142 metres, two clean-breaks and eight defenders left bewildered. He is one of those rare players where the top-half is for show and the bottom half is for dough.

 

Rather like George North, his legs and rump are so hefty that unless defenders wrap their arms around the ankles, the chances of dropping them to the deck are slim – especially one on one. It’s rather like trying to carry a double mattress on your own. Your arms can fit around the object, and you can manage the weight, but as soon as the weight shifts slightly, you’re heading for the deck. Dirksen could prove invaluable when North is away with Wales and it is great to see him fit. Well played, Hanno.


Nick Grigg does it again

To the casual observer it may appear that this column has reached sycophantic levels of praise for Nick Grigg, to the point where I want to adopt him as my own child. But how can you not write about his performances, when he is tearing-up the league like an anxious cat, on a sofa, on November 5th. You could argue that it was Niko Matawalu who deserved the plaudits from Glasgow’s win over the Ospreys, and with a hat-trick scored, that argument may be justified. But whilst Matawalu, as always, brings a wonderful unpredictability to Glasgow’s game, it is Grigg who is bringing the continuity – and it is continuity that wins titles.

Grigg is reaching the levels of consistency that Ryan Crotty produces for the Crusaders, and whilst it may not receive the same praise as the hot-steppers in the Glasgow squad, his contribution is vital. Grigg has now been included in the Scotland squad and would be a very solid option in midfield. With Huw Jones placed under Gregor Townsend’s microscope, it may be Grigg who deserves a closer look.


All Eyes On: Stuart Hogg

With no Guinness PRO14 games this weekend, Stuart Hogg is back fit for Scotland and the player to watch. There are few fullbacks in test rugby that change the opposition’s kicking strategy. Much like Israel Folau, Cheslin Kolbe, Damien McKenzie and Ben Smith, Hogg is an attack first player.

Yes, he can clear his lines and yes, he can defend, but the danger is in his step and his ability to run into space, not merely kick into it. Whether he starts after his injury lay-off remains to be seen, but a seat on the bench is a must. Great to see you back, Stuart.


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