Paul Williams: The Black & White Column

Adam Redmond
14 March 2019

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Each game week Paul Williams ‘Black & White’ column will take a look around the world of the Guinness PRO14 and further afield. 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. For more make sure to follow him on Twitter  @thepaulwilliams


‘Finishers’ need another new name. Introducing the ‘Watsons’

First, they were called replacements, followed by substitutes. Then Eddie Jones formalised the name ‘finishers’. But even before the term finishers has been fully adopted, we need to change it again.

From this day forth they shall be called ‘Watsons’. Hamish Watson’s impact from Scotland’s bench was incredible. The Edinburgh flanker beat 10 defenders in 15 minutes. Yup, 10 defenders in 15 minutes.

To beat 10 defenders, in 80 minutes, would put you near the top of the end of season stats, let alone achieving such numbers in just a quarter of the game. When he entered the match, it looked like someone had introduced a different species onto the pitch.

A post-match blood test would surely have proven that he had been drinking shots of Velociraptor blood. Of course, it wasn’t enough for Scotland to win and playing in just the final 15 minutes would never be worthy of man of the match award, but it was a magnificent contribution and one which redefined the role of a bench player. Well played Hamish, who is also my Guinness PRO14 player of the round for last weekend!


Hadleigh Parkes is Back

To state that Hadleigh Parkes is back, is to assume that his form went somewhere else. It didn’t really. He has had a quiet season by his standards, for both the Scarlets and Wales, but he has remained of Test standard.

The problem is that Parkes’ standards are very high. And in a unique way. A manner that Welsh rugby isn’t used to. Wales likes its players to be flamboyant and to excel in a very defined set of skills – often at the expense of other attributes. The nations’ favorite players have often been those who have been the best in the world at one thing, but possibly lacking in others.

Shane Williams and Phil Bennett, for example, were geniuses in attack and could utilize a trail of ants for sidestep drills, but you would never put either at the top of the defensive charts. Hadleigh Parkes is different. He isn’t the best at any core skill but he is excellent at them all.

If there was a decent rugby game on the market, which there isn’t, Parkes would have a rating of 83 for everything, (possibly 75 for speed) yet 90 for nothing. And that is exactly what he did against Scotland – he executed the basics brilliantly.

One clean break, two defenders beaten and 17 tackles. Add to that eight simple but effective passes and you have exactly the player that Wales need in midfield. With Jon Davies, Liam Williams, Josh Adams and George North running angles, you need a Pythagoras type in the middle making sure that the numbers add up. Well played Hadleigh.


Injuries ARE a valid excuse

To say that injuries aren’t an excuse may have been the case a decade ago – when four to six injuries was deemed excessive. But during the past few seasons, injuries really have become a valid excuse.

The modern game has become so heavy and contact driven that a squad which starts the Guinness Six Nations can be unrecognizable after just three weeks of competition.

To lose one player in a position is part of the game, but to lose up to four in one position should give you an indicator of just how unsustainable rugby collisions are becoming – it is also no coincidence that it is usually backrow forwards who usually top the injury charts.

With the injuries that Scotland have had during this championship, they have had no chance of performing to their best. Many have stated that this current squad is the same old mix of gutsy performances and gut-wrenching results. But it really isn’t.

The teams that Scotland are currently able to field bare no relation to their genuine squad. It may be that having just two Guinness PRO14 teams contributes this problem and that is something for the SRU to look at. But when you’re forced to call up a player such as Kyle Steyn, who has only played four games in the Guinness PRO14, then your team has a very real injury problem.

I’ve recently had my DNA results back from the lab (it was a Christmas present, not a request from a magistrate) which stated that I’m 30% Scottish. Which means there’s a very real chance that I’m starting against England.


Italy overpowered by England

Italian rugby has had a promising season. Benetton are the form team in the Guinness PRO14 and Italy’s performances in the Six Nations have been competitive. But there was always the chance that at some stage they would be blown away by one team.

And that team was always likely to be the one that can pick the most powerful squad – England. Eddie Jones’ team selection against Italy looked like something from WWE. To have Ben Te’o, Manu Tuilagi, Joe Cokanasiga, Ellis Genge, Kyle Sinckler and Billy Vunipola on the field, at the same time, presented a problem that only the best defensive teams in the world could cope with.

Only New Zealand, Ireland, Wales and South Africa can currently cope with 15+ phases from that amount of carrying power and so it proved. With five players of that stature, on the field, at the same time, it meant that at least two were always on their feet ready to blast.

Cokanasiga looked like something from a horror film and was at times carrying the ball in one hand like a Wrigley’s extra. He occasionally swapped hands with the minty breath freshener only to flick Italians away like one of those power-hoses that are used to quell urban riots.

Tuilagi carried for 82m, of which there were few cheap kick returns. Each carry leaving broken Italians on the floor like some kind of Roman mosaic. But Italy shouldn’t be overly concerned about this result. England can, on occasion, do that to anyone. It may be Scotland next.


Ireland had an open training session with France

During this year’s Guinness Six Nations we’ve already seen England invite a very promising Georgian squad into camp. With the aim of improving both squads and hopefully extending the reach of international Test rugby. It was very kind of Ireland do the same thing for France. England and Georgia had their training session behind closed doors but Ireland rather kindly sold tickets to the public and allowed the wider world to enjoy the spectacle.

As you would expect from a training session against inferior opposition, Ireland dominated everything.  Joe Schmidt would have been pleased with Garry Ringrose, Jordan Larmour and James Ryan who all excelled at the basics and the extras.

CJ Stander arguably had his performance of the season and Keith Earls once again showed why he is arguably the most underrated player in Test rugby – his ability to carve inside, and out, from the 13 channel is something that few test players possess. Ireland had the ideal practice session in the buildup to the Wales game and France have once again been exposed to proper test rugby which can only be good for their nation.

The Guinness PRO14 Final is one of the most entertaining games in the rugby calendar and takes place in Glasgow’s Celtic Park on May 25.  Tickets start at just £25 for adults, £1 for kids.  Visit www.pro14rugby.org/finaltickets

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