Paul Williams Column: The Black & White Column

Harry Everett
22 May 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 beyond. Known for his contributions to Rugby World, his obsession for the game and his notorious tennis elbow, as an independent columnist Paul will bring his unique takes on rugby to pro14rugby.org. With no grey areas, entertainment and enlightenment are assured. A must follow on  Twitter  @thepaulwilliams


Warriors Dominate from the Outset

There were some fantastic games played this past weekend. The Premiership saw some tremendous rugby, as did the Top 14 – Nemani Nadolo’s offload for Montpellier was insane. However, nothing impressed quite like Glasgow Warriors in their Guinness PRO14 Semi-Final against Ulster.

 

It was almost as if Glasgow didn’t realise this was a knockout game and that they were all going on a 14-day slash-up to Magaluf straight after kick-off. The relaxed and calming manner with which they dismantled Ulster was tantamount to rugby Valium.

This ability to dismantle a team so effortlessly is something that few teams are able to do. Leinster and Saracens have the skills, so do the Crusaders and the Hurricanes, and now Glasgow can also be added to that list. Glasgow have triple-threat players in every position in the backline – players who can all pass, run and kick.

Having seven backs who can all essentially execute any play, at any time, means that whilst first phase defence against Glasgow is tricky, trying to lock them down once the defensive line has jumbled is near impossible. And so it proved for Ulster.

Glasgow made 17-line breaks against Ulster, whereas Munster and Leinster only managed 13 between them. Add to that seven tries and you realise that Glasgow aren’t the outsiders for the title, but a genuine threat. Well played Glasgow, beautiful rugby.


Ospreys’ Win Changes Everything

What a difference a day, in May, makes. Less than 12 weeks ago we were discussing whether the Ospreys would be added to the endangered bird list. Now, after the Play-Off against the Scarlets, they are the only Welsh region in the Champion’s Cup next season. And they deserve it.

 

Owen Watkin delivered his performance of the season and made Hadleigh Parkes and Jon Davies look like the junior centres in the Welsh setup. Adam Beard once again showed that he is no longer a young man in a monster’s body and is, in fact, a monster in a monster’s body. And Dan Evans once again reinforced his reputation as Welsh rugby’s astronomer – finding space where others discover nothing.

But by far the most pleasing display came from Dan Lydiate. It was his first game in six months and playing at No 8 – a position that he really isn’t cut out for. But even from No 8, he made a massive impact on the game. The Ospreys have had an awful season, probably the worst in their history, and this game will have repaired some of the damage, if not all. Well played Ospreys.

P.S It goes without saying that Alun-Wyn Jones and Justin Tipuric played well. From now on, just assume that is the case until told otherwise.


Munster go too Heavy in the Back Row

Picking big heavy ball carriers is always tempting. Carrying is the most obvious, most impactful and most pleasing aspect of rugby. Big carries bring the cheers from your supporters and the tears from the opposition’s fans. But it is also an overly simplistic view of modern rugby, as Munster found out to their cost against Leinster.

Picking Peter O’Mahony, CJ Stander and Arno Botha may have looked like a way to dominate the gain line, but it allowed Leinster to dominate the floor. Whilst Munster’s big backrow were able to cross the gainline, when they got there was no one to help jackal – it was too much work even for Tadgh Beirne.

The result was that the lighter, far more mobile Josh van der Flier got to every breakdown first and cleaned-up. Not since my late grandmother has a floor been cleaned-up so efficiently – her carpets were so pristine that you could safely amputate a limb on them. Munster’s actual gain line dominance came from the ever-impressive Chris Farrell but is wasn’t enough. Munster need to select a genuine seven and a creative force at inside centre if they are to win big next season.


Leinster’s Front Three is Evolution in Real Time

You may live in Alabama, or one of those Southern States in the USA, where logic seems to be an optional extra in life. You may be one of those who denies evolution as a theory despite the masses of evidence.

 

But even if you are one of those, for whom evolution remains a punt and not a given, it is difficult to deny the evolution of front row play if you saw Tadhg Furlong, Sean Cronin and Cian Healy play against Munster. They were stunning as individuals and as a unit. Whilst those living in Alabama are probably discussing the validity of opposable thumbs, all three of the Leinster front row must have four or five on each hand – such is their dexterity.

The way that each took, and delivered, a simple pass for Cronin’s try was beautiful and reminiscent of a backline from the 1970’s not a front row who probably weigh 1970 lbs between them. There were many positives from Leinster’s performance against Munster. But that was the highlight. Well played fellas.


The Hornes Were at it Again

There have been some fantastic brothers who have played rugby together at the same club and in the same Test team. But none have yet managed to repeatedly mug-off the opposition with a move that they have clearly been practising in the back garden, like Peter and George Horne.

 

They did it again against Ulster, for the third time this season, and it was as beautiful as the first. When Glasgow have a penalty advantage, George simply shouts to his brother, drops a 15-yard dink over the opposing outside half’s head and Peter strolls up and scores.

As beautiful as it is to watch, if club and international coaches haven’t figured it out yet, then they need a pay cut or a season working under Mourad Boudjellal as punishment.

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