Warriors Total Rugby Shows No Sign of Stopping
Glasgow Warriors’ win against Leinster, in Leinster, was like the 2nd part of an HBO special – the first part having been broadcast last week when they played Ulster. It was a stunning show and as good a demonstration of ‘total’ rugby as you’ll see all season in any league. To beat Leinster, anywhere, is the highlight of most team’s season.
To beat their first team, anywhere, is remarkable. To beat their first team, in Ireland, is almost like winning an invisible trophy. Sam Johnson had another one of those performances that makes him a genuine contender for Guinness PRO14 team of the year – his hand-off on Ross Byrne was like something from a comic book.
The Fagerson brothers delivered another huge performance and initiated yet another climb up the most-powerful-brothers-list; moving one above the Krays and one beneath the Kennedys. Having beaten Leinster, in Ireland, Glasgow will fear no-one in the Guinness PRO14 Final Series, and rightly so.
Benetton – Most Underrated Back Three in PRO14
Not a week can pass without mention of Benetton. Even in defeat to Munster, Benetton are playing rugby of note. And not the rugby that you would expect. Italian rugby seems to have an image hangover from the 2000’s. A period in which they had a pack but not much else. But that is no longer the case with their national team, nor Treviso.
And they have arguably the most underrated back-three in the Guinness PRO14. This isn’t to say that a back-three of Jayden Hayward, Iliesa Ratuva Tavuyara and Monty Ioane is the best in the Championship- it probably isn’t. But can you name a trio that finishes more consistently from 40m? Hayward may not be the fastest fullback in Europe, but his passing is laser-like and proves that when you have a flyer on one wing, and a beast on the other, a fullback that can hold the defence and pass into space is all you need.
If Benetton can retain and recruit well this summer, next year’s Final Series will be a certainty, not merely a wish.
TMO Error Clear to See
There are no easy jobs when it comes to rugby officiating. Other than being Israel Folau’s Press Officer, being a referee, assistant referee or TMO is the toughest job in the game. But that doesn’t mean that the scrutiny of those roles should be equal.
Most of the referees and assistant referees’ decisions are made in real time, whilst all of the TMO’s decisions have the benefit of fast forward and rewind. And it is within these parameters that the TMO made against Cardiff Blues must be judged. To many – including myself – the ball clearly touched the line, before Justin Harries’ hand did. This point of view may reek of Welsh bias, but it shouldn’t.
I would feel the same if the try was disallowed for a Nigel Farage Select XV. Cardiff Blues will feel aggrieved, there is the consolation of still being in the running for a Champions Cup place but with the momentum they have built this once will sting – they would have been a dark horse in knock-out stages.
Keelan Giles is Back
It may seem odd to suggest that a 21-year-old rugby player has come back. At that age you’ve barely had time to go anywhere, let alone come back. But such was the attention on Keelan Giles’ first season, that it does feel like a comeback of sorts. Giles hasn’t had it easy so far. Stalled by injury, and even when fit, has been part of an Ospreys’ squad that has had a mixed season to put it politely.
Add to that the possibility of a merger with the Scarlets, and Giles has arguably had one of the lead roles in Welsh rugby’s continual soap opera. But as his performance against the Isuzu Southern Kings’ proved, Giles’ form is beginning to stabalise, and once again his feet, rather than his injuries, are getting the headlines.
Giles made 107m, three clean breaks, and beat eight defenders against the Kings. 107m may not seem that remarkable a number for a wing, but with Giles every metre counts. He doesn’t do cheap kick returns, where a back-three player regularly runs 8-10m and sticks the ball up in the air. All of Giles ‘metres made’ are a threat. A threat where his feet are able to change their direction quicker than Boris Johnson.
Wales currently has a number of spicy wings that even the Colonel would be proud off, but none are able to beat the first defender like Giles. His return to form is great for the Ospreys and for Wales. He’s also the type of wing that Gareth Anscombe will love to have has an option. Well played, Keelan.
Say Hello to Robert Baloucoune
For those outside the Ulster hardcore Robert Baloucoune may be a newish name. But he is a player that once seen, won’t be forgotten. It is rather unfair of Ulster really. No sooner do they unveil Jacob Stockdale, they take the bubble wrap off another big unit. Baloucoune’s finish against Edinburgh was mesmerising. At its most basic level, he beat three defenders to score in the corner.
But it was so much more than that. Taking the ball from a standing start, he skinned three Edinburgh backs – you could have picked up all three and made a handbag from their skins. Ulster have had a very positive season already, and it looks set to continue beyond this season. In Baloucoune and Stockdale, they have two wingers of New Zealand standard, and that is a compliment indeed.
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