Paul Williams: Savvy Cockers is About More than Quick Raids

Adam Redmond
04 December 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


Shrewd Cockers Gets Reward from Cork Raiding Party

It always feels weird when a team wins at Munster. Not only does it upset rugby’s equilibrium, but it also confuses my predictive text functions – as the words ‘wins’ ‘at’ ‘Munster’ are rarely followed by anything other than ‘Munster’.

But this time, Edinburgh was the word that followed that sentence. Munster will undoubtedly, and rightly point out, that Edinburgh beat a second-string Munster team. But that is no-one’s fault but Munster’s.

Richard Cockerill is a clever coach. His on-field coaching has already transformed Edinburgh into a team with a solid set piece, good ground game and a backline that can ‘ball’ when required. But his off-field decisions are also precise. He clearly knew that Munster would be focusing on the next block of European games, and instead of following suit, sent in the big guns.

And it worked. It may not have been the prettiest, but it was as beautiful as ugly gets. Add to that Duane van Der Merwe picking up Jack Donoghue like he was one of those little dogs that you see popping their head over the edge of a Hollywood starlet’s handbag, and you had a great weekend for Edinburgh supporters.


Sad to Admit, Ospreys Were Beaten Before a Ball was Kicked

Even if the Ospreys were stable off the field and didn’t have 20-ish players missing through injury, the Toyota Cheetahs game would have been a contest. The Cheetahs are the most improved team in the competition and have shredded plenty of opponents this season already.

But with the Ospreys as they are, the Cheetahs win was a given. It was result so predetermined that even my cruel, cursed, predictions couldn’t have helped them. The Ospreys have no head coach and they have an injury list that looks like they have played their opening fixtures on an unsecured minefield, not the Liberty Stadium.

The reality is that the Ospreys, through circumstance, have had to select players not just from the depths of the senior squad, but from the middle of the academy structure. Those players will undoubtedly benefit from the experiences later in their career, but at the moment that seems like a distant reward.

Even in the Welsh winter the Cheetahs handled well and managed to spin their backs into the wide channels – William Small Smith once again impressing. However, this week, the real post-game praise must go to Richie Pugh and James Hook. We often talk about players fronting up, and that’s exactly what they did in turning up to the Guinness PRO14 Media Day and taking some big hits from the assembled media.

Well played the Cheetahs, James Hook and Richie Pugh.


Can They Kick It? Yes, Ulster Certainly Can

Ulster delivered the ‘kicking’ of the week, and that’s despite Andrew Neil booting many a political leader’s ambitions directly in the windpipe. The Scarlets were missing stacks of international players, but even so, the manner in which they were dismantled was remarkable.

With John Cooney, Billy Burns and the young Bill Johnston, Ulster have three of the most creative kickers in the Guinness PRO14 – I’m sure Jack Carty fans won’t be happy with me! During the first half against the Scarlets, Johnston and Cooney executed and incredible array of crossfield kicks. To the point where they were more prevalent than passing.

With both Johnston and Cooney setting up to kick-pass, the Scarlets’ defence was constantly caught narrow. And the Scarlets back three expecting a more orthodox approach from Ulster, Robert Baloucoune found himself catching crossfield kicks with seconds to spare and in hectares of space – a situation in which he thrives. Ulster look promising this season.


Enjoy the Novelty of Pad Lifting while it Lasts

Every season rugby has a quirky peccadillo that we’ve never seen before. We’ve had the ‘ruck train’, non-engaging at the maul and now we have the ‘pad lift’. The pad lift may seem like something that a Tory cabinet minister may be accused of, but it is infact an issue that affects carriers around the goalposts.

It involves lifting the giant protective pads that surround the base of the goalposts, to allow the defensive tacklers to get as tight to the carrier as possible. Essentially, by lifting the padding, the defensive line is able to fit two defenders into the space, that with the pad in place, they could only fit one.

Edinburgh rightly received a warning for the infringement, because it is dangerous. Instead of a ball carrier now potentially hitting a giant square pillow, they’re running into steel. However, as dangerous as the pad-lift is, it is great to see coaches and players evolving the game with new ideas. It is the essence of rugby.


Ruaridh Jackson is the Inverted Samson

When the biblical Samson messed with his hair, he became weaker. When Ruaridh Jackson adjusts his, he becomes more powerful you can ever imagine. Sporting a tremendous pink ‘Movember’ on his upper lip and an undercut that wouldn’t look out of place on a Viking raid, he was fantastic against Leinster.

He scored two tries and made a sizable contribution elsewhere, but it still wasn’t enough to help Glasgow Warriors get anywhere near Leinster – I’m not sure anyone can. If Glasgow want to make a real run at the title this year, they may need Jackson to take the hair grooming to the next level. He’s done the head, he’s done the tache, there is only one area left 👀

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