Paul Williams: Speed, Power, Tempo, Aerial Duels – The Glorious Chaos of the Guinness PRO14 Final

Adam Redmond
29 May 2019

Share this article

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


Beautiful Chaos

Chaos is rarely beautiful. Take my children’s bedrooms for example, or Donald Trump’s cognitive function. But the Guinness PRO14 Final genuinely was. Often, as a rugby crowd, we’re looking for perfection. 100% lineout completions, minimal handling errors and chess-like positional play from every player on the field.

 

But mistakes create turnovers and turnovers are a rare glimmer of light in what can be a wall of defence darkness in modern rugby. That both Leinster and Glasgow Warriors tried to play wide in dismal conditions should be applauded. Glasgow beat 23 defenders for example which isn’t easy when the ball is as slippery as Boris Johnson. Leinster also threw a variety of passes into midfield and tried to play wide whenever possible.

Admittedly, the result was often a stack of passes that were dropped or bounced in between the centres. But this allowed both teams to make big 40m gains once they’d turnover the ball. Most of the chaos happened in midfield as you’d expect, but it allowed both pairs of centres to beat 12 defenders between them – with the increasingly impressive Kyle Steyn benefitting most from the mayhem. But, as pleasing as the creative intentions were, it was the narrow, heavy, multiphase sets that were most effective for both teams.

Rhys Ruddock and James Ryan were immaculate in contact and Zander Fagerson’s lines and carries were so industrial that you can now rent him for the weekend from JCB. It may not have been the prettiest to some, but to me it was beautiful. Well played both.


Even when Leinster are ‘off’, they’re still switched on

It may seem bizarre to suggest that the winners of the Guinness PRO14 title and finalists of the Champions’ Cup have been a little off this season, but it is a compliment to Leinster to even consider that notion and recognition of the club that they have become.

The reality is that Leinster weren’t at their best against Glasgow Warriors, they haven’t been all season, but they are still too good for virtually everyone in club rugby. Johnny Sexton was twitchy from the tee, on occasions, but still delivered when it counted. There were no ‘Leinster Loops’, Jordan Larmour was restricted to 29 metres carried and Tadgh Furlong, the tight-head, didn’t manage to sidestep a single player or throw a miss-three pass straight over the middle – shame on you Tadhg.

But what Leinster did right, was impressive. They conceded just four penalties all game. They completed 205 from 230 tackles – which is a massive amount in the rain where boots slide, and arms slip. They were eight from eight at the scrum and missed just one lineout – an area of their game in which they can, on occasion, lack accuracy. Glasgow impressed, but Leinster did what Leinster do – win. And that is all that matters.


Tommy Seymour – the Problem Solver

There is a glut of underappreciated back-three players in the Guinness PRO14. Andrew Conway, Darren Sweetnam and, despite being named as full back of the season, Dan Evans. It isn’t to say that they don’t receive any shine, they do. But it isn’t the Ray-Ban requiring shine that Jacob Stockdale or James Lowe receive. Top of the list of the underappreciated has to be Tommy Seymour.

 

His performance against Leinster, as all season, was immaculate. I don’t think I’ve seen him make an obvious mistake since December. He is the CTRL Z of rugby. In that if something goes wrong, he undoes it. His defence and positioning against Leinster was textbook and contributed to a 95% defensive completion by Glasgow – easier said than done again Leinster.

But perhaps the highlight of his overall game was the mid-air, two-handed catch. To call it a mid-air catch does it an injustice. He nearly banged his head on the landing gear of a flight leaving Glasgow airport – catches like that are usually the preserve of the AFL. Well played Tommy S.


Fast Tempo. Big Power.

The speed at which the Guinness PRO14 Final was played was reminiscent of Super Rugby, not a Northern Hemisphere final where big money and silverware are but 80 minutes away. The last time I witnessed a tempo like that I was in the gabba room at a club in Frankfurt.

The opening 40 minutes genuinely felt like a sevens’ match but with an extra 25kgs packed onto every player. No sooner had the ball hit the deck, then it was cleaned and spun straight to the first receiver. It is a testament to the fitness of both squads, particularly the front five, that they were able to recycle that rapidly for such long periods of time – none did it better than Josh van der Flier.

But perhaps the most impressive aspect of the game was that despite flying around the field like gnats that had accidentally flown though a meth lab, the tight fives were able to scrummage for at least 10 solid minutes in the second half. Many hate the fact that scrum resets can hijack a game. But they are a blessing in disguise.

Without massive scrum battles, you wouldn’t need 20 stone monsters; you’d have a field full of 15 stone players and as a result, even fewer gaps in the defensive line. The Guinness PRO14 Final really was a blend of gas and mass. And both have a role to play in the game.


“You’re better off playing without the ball”

 No words deserve more vilification in rugby, than ‘you’re better off playing without the ball’. It was a phrase that I heard regularly post-match from supporters and pundits alike. And one which is defeatist and at total odds with rugby or any sport for that matter.

The whole point of virtually all sports is to score more than the opposition and you simply can’t do that without the ball. Yes, you can win the odd game by converting penalties from turnovers and the scrum lottery, but you certainly won’t win any silverware over an entire season. There isn’t a team in the global game that wins consistently by relying on the defensive mistakes of the opposition alone – not one.

Even teams like Exeter and Saracens, who have an unfair reputation for being overly defensive on occasion, can absolutely batter the opposition when they do have the ball – just look at the Premiership Semi-Finals. Modern rugby needs to get rid of this notion that you can be better off without the ball. If it is the case that your team is happier defending than attacking, then the solution is to coach or recruit better players who are willing to seek possession, not hide from it. Rant over.

Share this article