Paul Williams: The Black & White Column

Adam Redmond
31 January 2019

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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


Benetton Delivering on The Road

You can scream until you’re blue, or green, red and white, in the face, but some still won’t believe you that Benetton Rugby are contenders for the Guinness PRO14 Final Series. Well, they’re now second in Conference B. And they are well deserving of their standing.

 

Even when praise is occasionally aimed in the direction of the Italian club, it is reserved for their home performances alone. But their draw against Ulster, in Belfast, proves that they can cause problems away from home too. It was a fantastic performance and one which was worthy of a win.

They were a literally a second away from getting the win – ‘literally’ being the dictionary definition and not the fast and loose manner in which millennials use the word. A result made even more remarkable by the fact that Benetton conceded a try in the opening minute.

But whilst they made a highly respectable eight line breaks and beat a staggering 37 defenders, it was their defence which pings out on the stat sheet – 252 tackles made and a completion of 88%. That’s a ridiculous amount of tackles for a squad. And a squad that contributes more test stars to their nation that almost any other. Treviso are the real deal and it’s fantastic for the Championship.


Ball Breaker

Welsh test rugby isn’t blessed with monstrous second rows. Unlike South African, English or French rugby whose locks are comparable to beasts in Lord of the Rings, Welsh rugby has always been more ‘Lord of the Flies’. Even the immense Alun-Wyn Jones’ body measurements are rather normal when compared to RG Snyman and Eben Etzebeth etc.

Outside of the Welsh test team, the Welsh regions have chosen to populate their squads with locks who can double as blindside flankers – understandable given the budgetary constraints. And that’s why Jake Ball’s return for the Scarlets is so important. Ball is a lock and of that there is no doubt. And his performance against Leinster, even in a losing team, was fantastic.

Ball carried the ball, the physical object, not himself, for 29m. The perfect number for a lock. Any more than 30m and your lock is either not cleaning out enough rucks or standing too wide and making easier yards in light traffic. Locks are supposed to run into the brick, not the mortar.

There are no 15m glory carries, there are no spaces, you are carrying into double hits on every contact. They are the sandpaper of rugby, they may look like they aren’t achieving much, but with every action they’re wearing a layer of the opposition down. Well played Jake, long may the attrition continue.


Goal Kicking Wins Winter Games

Of all of the games played in Round 14, in the northern hemisphere, the greatest winning margin was five points or under. Three of those five games had a maximum individual team score of under ten points.

The cynics will argue that it is due to the test window, and the depletion of squads, and they might be right, to a point. But it is hard to ignore that the weather plays a significant role in the number of try-scoring opportunities available.

Some of the weather in Round 14 would have had a penguin in tears. As a result, the three fixtures in which no team managed to score more than 10 points (Glasgow v Ospreys, Cardiff Blues v Connacht and Dragons v Munster) featured just 18 line breaks between all six teams – it is very rare to see two teams fail to complete more than six line breaks between them in club/regional rugby.

And when the line breaks dry up, the pressure ramps up on the kicker. Goalkicking has become rather an afterthought in rugby over the past two seasons – particularly in Super Rugby. But in mid-winter a kicking percentage of plus 85% is worth than more wig glue in the White House.


Kings Sling’n’fling Highlights Continue

That the Isuzu Southern Kings need to up their defensive contribution is beyond doubt. But so too is their ability to score tries so beautiful that they should have a snapchat filter named after them.

In a week where social media has been pumped with glorious Six Nations’ tries from yesteryear, their match winning try against Edinburgh was the equal of any. Born of desperation in their ‘22’, the Kings had no choice but to sling’n’fling.

After three passes, just metres from their try line, Meli Rokoua broke from towards the halfway line and was ankle-tapped. What followed was a mid-air offload that looked like a flightless bird had suddenly learned to pass – it was a glorious. Yaw Penxe then took the ball and finished what was a truly exquisite try. Well played Southern Kings. Proper ballers.


The Beauty of a Multi-Hemisphere Tournament

 

One of the attractions of Super Rugby is that on any given weekend you can see at least two fixtures played in almost opposite weather conditions. And it is now one of the benefits of the Guinness PRO14 also.

Whilst many of the games played in the Northern Hemisphere during week 14 saw players wiping sleet from their hair, the guys in the Southern Hemisphere were wiping sweat from their eyes. The Toyota Cheetahs v Zebre game saw 13 tries and the

home team carry over 584m – a legitimate Super Rugby number. We also saw the try of the round from the Isuzu Southern Kings. Whilst the whole of the rugby world is contemplating summer rugby over winter rugby, the Guinness PRO14 has both.

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