Paul Williams: The Black & White Column

Adam Redmond
21 February 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


Super Rugby in both hemispheres

This weekend saw the return of Super Rugby to the southern hemisphere. And thanks to a bonkers game between Cardiff Blues and Glasgow, we also saw a glimpse of it up north. It was tremendous. And whilst the Chiefs v Highlanders was a great watch, the game at Cardiff Arms Park was arguably the best Super Rugby style game of the weekend.

Ten tries and a combined ‘meters carried’ of well over 1100m tells us that neither team had come to box-kick. But the most remarkable stat was the line breaks, nearly 18 each – a stat which usually separates Super Rugby from the rest of the elite competitions.

 

Every single back, in both teams, beat at least one defender – with six players beating 4-plus. Matthew Morgan beat a remarkable seven players and delivered one of those performances where he twitched past defenders like a fly that had mistaken a pile of sugar for a pile of medical-grade amphetamine.

Some will argue that the game, whilst stacked with attack, lacked defence. But that isn’t true. Just because two teams have low defensive completions doesn’t necessarily mean that the defence was poor, it means that the attacking was too good – there is a difference. Well played both. 


Should the ‘Latch’ be made illegal?

‘Latching’ is the act of a supporting player binding onto the ball carrier and helping drive through contact. It used to be a bit-part in rugby, but now it is a core skill and coached at a young age. It means that carriers can power over the gain-line with ease and secure quicker ruck ball.

It has also made defending on your own try-line near impossible – and is one of the contributing factors as to why so many teams are turning down easily kickable penalties in favour of lineouts or scrums in the opposition’s ‘22’. But whilst the ‘latch’ is undoubtedly effective, it is detrimental to the game.

Given the current focus on player safety, doubling the combined body weight of a ball carrier seems counter-intuitive. In a modern game where we already question if players are too big, allowing one 19 stone monster to fuse onto another 19 stone freakshow is just making a big problem, bigger.

Allowing the ‘latch’ is also taking footwork out of a forward’s skillset and encouraging them to run hard straight lines, knowing that another 110kg is about to grab hold of their thigh. If rugby is serious about increasing player safety and reducing the size of players, then the ‘latch’ needs to be shown the door. 


Benetton Defy the Test Window

Nobody likes having league games played during the test window. We all know that it dilutes the effectiveness of squads and it is a problem that affects every elite league. Northampton Saints nearly put 70 points on Sale, something that would never happen with their full squad available.

And in the Top 14 we saw five away wins in a league where wins away from home are as rare as a consistent French national team squad selection. However, Benetton have chosen to ignore the omens of the test window. And despite having a total of 23 players in the Italian squad, they beat the Scarlets and are now second in their conference.

It’s easy to blame test windows for dips in form, and on some occasions, it is justified, but it isn’t stopping the Italian club from being genuine contenders for the Guinness PRO14 Final Series. Something that some of the other clubs/regions around them seem to be struggling with. Well played, Benetton.

Watch Benetton Players Marco Lazzaroni and Tomas Baravalle react to Scarlets win 


Cardiff Blues’ Academy Producing Ready-Made Stars

When we discuss successful academy structures, we tend to focus on Leinster. But whilst the success of Cardiff Blues, as a club, can’t be compared to Leinster, their academy is certainly starting to produce a fleet of pro-rugby-ready youngsters.

Jarrod Evans, Harri Millard, Owen Lane and Rhys Carre have made a big impression this season. Perhaps most encouraging, is that these players aren’t long-term punts who require time to mature – they’re ready now. Owen Lane is beginning to finish tries with a Jacob Stockdale level of confidence and Harri Millard is fast becoming the equal of Willis Halaholo and Rey Lee-Lo.

But perhaps the most impressive part of their production line has been the front row. Dillon Lewis is already a Welsh squad regular and Rhys Carre, at just 21-years-old, is already a bull-bar made flesh. Cardiff Blues may not have had the biggest of budgets, and that may be why their academy has had to produce its own, but they look to have a spine of sub 23-year-old players ready to carry the region through the next decade.


Zero Hour for Squeaky Clean Munster

That Munster beat the Southern Kings convincingly isn’t surprising – particularly given the conditions. This weather was as ‘Munstery’ as it could be. And with one of the most accurate pick-and-go games below test level, and a backline that rarely overplays, the result was largely inevitable. But for Munster not to concede a single penalty is odd.

Even in a 100-point hammering you would expect at least one penalty against the winning team. In modern rugby you need only look above the nipple line of a player and you risk a penalty. Not to mention conceding a penalty at the scrum, which is lottery-like at best. To concede zero penalties in rugby is largely unexplainable. Not sure I’ve ever seen it before, nor will I again. Strange.


All eyes on Scotland

There’s a big weekend of rugby coming up. A full fixture list in all leagues. Some big games in the Guinness PRO14 and of course Wales v England. But arguably the most intriguing game is in the Guinness Six Nations between France v Scotland.

Scotland have an injury list, at a length, not seen since they managed to pin the Romans back. France are playing the worst rugby in their history and a mini revolt doesn’t seem too far away. Add to that Mourad Boudjellal making Donald Trump look calm and measured, and you have the makings of a fantastic game.

Even though they are missing nearly half a starting XV, Scotland should still have enough to beat France. Bring on kick-off.

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