Paul Williams: The ‘Bloemfontein Ballers’ Will Tear Up Plenty More Defences

Adam Redmond
09 October 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


The Bloemfontein Ballers

It might seem odd to suggest that a land-based mammal has suddenly developed flight, but they really have. The Cheetahs shredded Ulster and to describe it as anything but that would be an injustice. The ‘Bloemfontein Ballers’ scored eight tries in total and not one involved a prop barreling over from three centimeters.

Barring one try, which in itself was perfectly executed, none of the tries would look out of place on the end of season highlight reel. Anthony Volimink’s hat-trick may make the headlines, but the real story is that the Cheetahs are a genuine force at home. It may be a different story of course when the test players return to the northern hemisphere. And it may be that the Cheetahs will struggle away in the cold environment of a northern winter.

However, they are capable of scoring tries from anywhere in the field and it looks like their style of rugby is going to rip a lot of defences open. The Cheetahs are a joy to watch. Keep it up gents.

Italian Wrestling’s Punchline Falls Flat

If two Uruguayan players had performed an atomic pile-driver at the Rugby World Cup it would have been more excusable – wrestling is a big deal in South America. In Italy, it is not. So, to see two Italian players tip Duane Vermeulen on his head was as remarkable as it was stupid.

It was remarkable in two regards. For less than three men to be able to lift Vermeulen over the horizontal is an achievement in itself – it’s also not a bad idea for a new event in World’s Strongest Man. But the tackle was truly remarkable in that it took place in the current climate. The debate about tip tackling was resolved nearly ten years ago and has moved far beyond that.

To think that you could get away with such an act, after the whistle, is as negligent as you’ll see from an elite player. That both Andrea Lovotti and Nicola Quaglio received just a three-match ban doesn’t – in my opinion – seem like an appropriate sanction in the current world of professional rugby. Even professional wrestling’s realm of poorly scripted narratives would find this one hard to take.

Ospreys Will be Shocked by their RDS Shutdown

If you thought that Andrea Lovotti and Nicola Quaglio’s dumping of Duane Vermeulen was savage, Leinster’s handling of the Ospreys, whilst being entirely within the laws of the game, was far more brutal. You may not see a more one-sided performance this season – and it came as a surprise.

Few expect to win in Leinster, but even fewer expect to be completely shut down and concede over 50 points. Even after a heavy defeat to Ulster, that Ospreys performance against Leinster was a shock to the rugby system. The Ospreys were unable to deal with Leinster’s narrow carries and cleanouts, and at times, Leinster’s lineout maul looked like an unopposed training drill.

Leinster’s dominance up front was bizarrely at odds with the Ospreys’ scrummaging, which was the only area in which they excelled. All teams require their test players back from the RWC, in order to reach their full potential, but it seems that the Ospreys require them more than most.

Tonga nearly out structure France

Tongan rugby is probably the most misunderstood in the whole tournament. Yes, they tackle in the Pacific Island style, by moving bones and internal organs without a medical licence. But they do not, like Fiji and arguably Samoa, attack wide at all costs. As we saw against France, Tonga play a very simple, structured game.

Tonga had 61% of the possession and territory – a stat that will shock many. They were also 100% at the scrum and 14 from 16 at the lineout. That they came within two points, of one of the richest rugby nations in the world, should come as no surprise when you become aware of those stats.

However, there is one problem. Tonga play a structured game without having the line-kicking, and arguably the goal kicking, to match. If Tonga had a Tier One outside-half guiding them through their fixtures, many of their results would be different. Well played Tonga.

Keep it Clean on the Way to the Line

As rugby once again struggles with its laws like a medieval despot, one area that teams should focus on is being squeaky clean on the way to the try-line. This may seem like an odd statement given that the tackle area and ruck are under such constant scrutiny. But when you’re scoring tries ‘clean rugby’ really matters.

The try-scoring process is the most scrutinised part of the game. It’s almost like having a microscope, under a microscope. And as we know, tries are hard enough to score as it is, without them being struck off whilst your kicker has the tee in his hands. It’s almost as if the phases prior to a try, for the attacking team, need to be treated separately from the rest of play.

There can be no side-entry on cleanouts, there can be no sealing-off on the ground and there can be no obstructions. The teams which clean up their act in the phases prior to scoring a try, may find that they also clean up in the tournament as it progresses.

Duhan van der Merwe v Owen Lane

It’s rare that head-to-head matches come to fruition. They are often the focus of pre-game build ups only to dissipate like Boris Johnson’s morals. That was not the case with Duhan van der Merwe v Owen Lane.

Two of the youngest most powerful wings in the Guinness PRO14 delivered two massive individual performances. Both were arguably the best carriers on the field, with Van der Merwe almost redefining what an ‘exit’ means. When pinned behind his 22m line he rarely kicked, or looked for a pass, he simply starting bouncing players around like he was 6ft 4inch, 16 stone inflatable toy – which isn’t suitable for children.

Lane once again executed a fine 30m finish, for which he is becoming renowned, and once again confirmed why he was a part of Wales’ pre RWC training camps. But whilst both deserve praise for their attack, they must also get a hat doff for their defence – both defended at Test level.

Well played gents.

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