Paul Williams: They Remain the Best Transition Team in the World and That is What Wins them Games

Adam Redmond
26 September 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


‘Taking Your Foot off the Gas’ IS the Right Thing to Do

‘Taking your foot off the gas’ is seen as a slur in rugby at Test and regional level. Both Wales and England were accused of doing this in their opening RWC matches, but it is an unfair criticism. It implies that when a team reaches an unassailable lead that they merely give up mentally, and physically, and wait for the final whistle to blow like a shift worker desperate to get off the production line.

But that really isn’t the case in modern test rugby. Taking your foot off the gas is the clever thing to do. Once the victory is assured and a bonus point is nailed there is nothing else to gain, only lose. Carrying and tackling at 100%, when you don’t need to, will only lead to increased strain on the players which can lead to longer recovery periods and potential injuries.

This isn’t the 1980s, where teams saw games as isolated affairs. Teams at the RWC aren’t playing one-off matches. They’re executing a seven-week plan where massive workloads need to be managed over a long-interconnected period. The next time you see your team ease up after amassing a 35-point lead, don’t think of it as a lack of effort, but as more an increase in awareness.


Uruguay – A Glimpse of the Amateur Game

Uruguay’s victory over Fiji was stunning and gave us a glimmer of rugby’s core ethos. Once you peel back the million-pound contracts, protein shakes and complicated defensive systems, rugby remains a simple game with an amateur ethos. Put simply, if you play your guts out, often there is little the opposition can do.

Uruguay took the Whack-a-Mole approach against Fiji, whereby if you see something move you smack it instantly. To state that this is all Uruguay achieved in their victory over Fiji, is to do them a huge disservice. Uruguay’s’ setpiece ran at 100%, not losing a single lineout or scrum.

Their attacking lines had structure and their transition play led to some sizeable gains and a try. But whilst many of their key performance indicators were pleasing, it was their defence that made the difference. Even in missing 48 tackles, Uruguay still managed to complete nearly 80% of their hits against a Fijian team that carried nearly 750m and beat a staggering 48 defenders. Uruguay have given both Fiji, and the Rugby World Cup, a giant kick up the ass. Now, anything seems possible.


Scotland Need Another Option

When Scottish rugby’s execution matches the PowerPoint Presentation that it was conceived on, it looks amazing. When it doesn’t, it looks like something that was written on a device from the Early Learning Centre. And sadly, that is what happened against Ireland.

The rain didn’t help, but a slow ball made Scotland’s lack of ball carriers evident. The Scottish backline, particularly Stuart Hogg, tried desperately to run and pass outside Ireland’s defensive edge, but to no avail. And as the ruck speed slowed further in the second half, Scotland didn’t have enough kilograms behind the ball to get over the gainline.

Compare that to Ireland, who with Jack Conan replacing Peter O’Mahony, had more carrying capability than Eddie Stobart. At any one-time, Ireland had two of Conan, James Ryan, Iain Henderson, CJ Stander and Tadgh Furlong on their feet – a carrying unit that Scotland couldn’t cope with.

Scotland’s situation has been compounded by the injuries to Ali Price and Hamish Watson, the former who helps increase Scotland’s ruck speed and Watson who has become their Swiss Army knife. Scotland are capable of so much more, lets hope we get to see it.


Rugby Refereeing Chaos

Eighteen months ago, it seemed that very few people understood what a constituted a high tackle. But those were the glory days bizarrely, as 18 months on nobody seems to understand it. We’ve gone from a situation where any contact to the head resulted in a card, to a situation where both Samoa and Australia appeared to get away with very relaxed officiating.

The situation has become so extreme that World Rugby issued a statement, criticising the consistency of the officiating, just a matter of days after the competition has begun. Let’s hope that the major mistakes are out of the way early on, because currently rugby seems to have as tight a grasp on the law as Boris Johnson does.


No-one transitions like the All Blacks

Such has been the All Blacks’ dominance over the past decade, that any slip up in form is treated like an extinction level incident similar to the one that caught the dinosaurs off guard. But as we saw against South Africa, in their opening RWC fixture, the All Blacks are still the dominant species.

It is true that the All Blacks no longer have the most powerful pack in the game, that title goes to the Boks or England, both of whom can field a minimum of two Test standard tight fives. The All Blacks also no longer have the most complete backrow in the game. Whilst Kieran Read, Sam Cane, and whoever they select at six, are still hugely competent, they aren’t the same vintage as Read, Jerome Kaino and Richie McCaw.

However, they remain the best transition team in the world and that is what wins them games. Even with limited possession they can dominate the scoreboard and that’s exactly what they did against South Africa.

The rugby public may be split on whether Beauden Barrett or Richie Mo’unga should play at ten. But the split that really matters is when you have one of them to the left of the scrum and one to the right – it’s terrifying for defenders.

Steve Hansen has also been using them like a ‘conveyor belt ten’. Where Mo’unga stands at first receiver, with Barrett five yards behind, then as soon as Mo’unga hits the deck, Barrett immediately steps into his place on the next phase – in the same way that a shark’s teeth replace themselves. The All Blacks remain the team to beat. Of that there is no doubt.


Cardiff City Stadium will play host to the 2020 Guinness PRO14 Final on June 20 as one of the most exciting days in the club rugby calendar comes to Wales!

General sale tickets are available from http://bit.ly/PRO14Cardiff2020 and prices start at just £13 for concessions and £26 for adults (subject to booking fees), that’s a 15% early bird discount. Family ticket (2 adults / 2 children) prices begin at £64 and fans are encouraged to buy early to get the best value tickets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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