Black & White: The Paul Williams Column

Adam Redmond
06 December 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

The Warriors go full Marvel comic

I very much doubt that Glasgow Warriors’ performance against the Scarlets was a deliberate tribute to Stan Lee, but it was Marvel comic worthy. Modern rugby is a ridiculously difficult game with 15 players on the field, so to beat the Scarlets with 14 men on the field for 61 minutes is no mean feat.

The manner of the victory was remarkable. It wasn’t based on random interceptions and weird refereeing decisions, it was 14-man dominance. To deliver 64% possession and 70% territory with one player in the showers after 19 minutes is unheard of. To put these numbers in perspective, the Scarlets had to make 173 tackles against a team which is essentially giving away an overlap for 61 minutes.

 

Perhaps the most remarkable stat of the game is that Glasgow were able to keep their defensive completion at 79% over 80 minutes. Add in super-solid performances from the young Stafford McDowall and Robbie Nairn, and the lump of small, but solid granite that is Nick Grigg and you have a performance that will be difficult to upstage all season. Well played, Glasgow.


Scarlets Ship 17 Penalties

Without wishing this column to become too stat heavy, the fact that the Scarlets conceded 17 penalties against Glasgow must be referenced – 17 penalties is high. Six to nine penalties is where most teams would expect to be, 10 to 14 penalties is on the high side, 17 penalties is waaaaaaay too much and would qualify for the life sentence in some countries!

But the Scarlet’s penalty count against Glasgow isn’t a cause, it is a symptom. It is a symptom of missing James Davies and the squad’s other key jackalers. With Davies injured and Tadgh Beirne and John Barclay gone, the Scarlets are struggling to speed up their own ruck speed and slow the oppositions down.

The situation was exacerbated against Glasgow as Ken Owens was understandably rested. The Scarlets entire game plan is built on fast ruck ball and ability to go wide or counter attack. Without fast ball, the Scarlets don’t really have pack full of 19st carriers who can thud over the gainline and this has shown in recent results.

However, don’t write the Scarlets off. When the full squad returns (Jake Ball arguably being the most important in the winter months) they will once again be highly competitive. And let’s not forget that they are still second in their conference even after an indifferent few weeks.


Leinster’s Next Generation Mangle Dragons

Leinster’s first XV are the best club team in Europe. But, as with the All Blacks and the Irish Test squads, you can determine the true health of their setups by looking at their talent that exists beyond the front lines.

Currently, Leinster have a second/ third string of players who are able to stick 59 points on Dragons’ first XV – and let’s not forget that this was played away, at Rodney Parade. It was a stunning performance from Leinster. Nine tries created by a squad of brilliantly coached players, who seem to play with same composure and accuracy regardless of who is wearing the shirt.

 

The carrying of the Leinster pack was immaculate and the contact work equally as pristine. The result was a Leinster ruck and maul so adept at sucking in Dragons’ defenders that it resembled a blackhole absorbing planets.

Leinster’s ability to repeatedly ‘carry and clean’ meant that the Dragon’s defensive line became narrower in a matter of five to seven phases and allowed Leinster’s backs to cross the try line with the nearest person to them often being a supporter in the stands, not a defender. One could argue that the 59-10 victory over Dragons says as much about the Welsh region as is does about the Irish province. And they may be right.


Cheetahs master the complexity, not the basics

As a neutral, the Toyota Cheetahs are a beautifully frustrating team to watch. A team who have learned to run before they can walk. Their attacking game is mesmerising. Born out of Super Rugby, their lines of running and offloading are up there with the best in the Guinness PRO14 and for brief 10-minute periods, you wonder why they aren’t higher up their conference.

But as against Connacht, it is the basics that let them down. The Cheetahs scored three tries and carried for a remarkable 697 yards – 697 yards would be a big number from the Hurricanes or Highlanders. They had a 100% completion at the scrum and lineout (8/8 and 14/14 respectively). However, all the above counts for little when you turn the ball over 20 times and have a goal kicking completion of 33%.

 

In Super Rugby, goalkicking doesn’t really matter, in Northern Hemisphere rugby it really does. The Cheetahs are so close to being a genuinely competitive team and with a few basic tweaks, they will be.


Chris Farrell Thunders Back

It was hard to miss Chris Farrell on his first start for Munster since returning from injury. Whereas as his namesake in England (Owen) has received a lot of attention for not using his arms, Chris Farrell used every inch of his body to damage Edinburgh’s defence.

With two tries, 63 metres carried, and six defenders beaten, it is little wonder that some of Edinburgh’s lowest defensive completions were in midfield. Farrell’s ‘bounce’ on Juan Pablo Socino was military grade carrying and a worthy of a Twitter meme.

 

But the Munster centre’s impact wasn’t restricted to the 12 and 13 channels, such was ability to hold defenders, it meant Munster’s wings had a field day – Andrew Conway and Keith Earls scored five between them. Ireland don’t really need any more options at centre, but they now have another one. Well played, Chris Farrell.


‘All Eyes on’ – Europe

Regardless of the league on which you primarily focus, the pre-Christmas European fixtures are one of the highlights of the domestic season. With Test rugby already a distant memory, this is ‘big boy’ stuff for club rugby – even squads as big as Exeter rotated their squad last week in preparation for this weekend.

There are no easy games and every point matters. For many teams their European dreams will be over in a matter of days. Let the games begin.

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