Paul Williams: Racing were blurring the line between rugby and art, Warriors and Chiefs was a Tango in Paradise & the new stat that rugby needs

Adam Redmond
15 January 2020

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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


Munster Caught in Another Dimension

It’s very easy to feel like you’re caught in another dimension when you’re playing against Racing 92. You’re playing rugby, but in the middle of a rock concert. At times, the whole situation looks like something from a 1980’s aftershave advert. But, as weird as the surroundings were, it was Racing’s three-dimensional approach on the field that did it for Munster.

As effective as Munster were for 60 minutes, and they really were, you can only go so far in Europe with limited line-breaks. The final score may have flattered Racing, but the line-break stats deliver an accurate picture of the game. With possession and territory being equal, any team that makes seven times as many clean breaks as their opponents will usually win. It’s not that Munster didn’t make any attacks of worth, they did. Andrew Conway once again delivered a fantastic attacking performance and so did Mike Haley.

But it wasn’t enough. Whilst Munster were struggling to break the line, Racing were blurring the line between rugby and art. It may be the first few weeks of 2020, but Teddy Thomas’ touchdown and Teddy Iribaren’s 20m reverse pass will feature on the end-of-year highlight reels.

Iribaren’s pass was so at odds with modern rugby that it looked like CGI. Munster are still a good team, and one of the top 12 in Europe, but two-dimensional rugby isn’t enough in Europe.

Recruitment in midfield is a must and if reports are true that South Africa’s World Cup winning centre, Damien de Allende, is headed for Thomond Park then he will be a major difference maker.


Warriors and Exeter Chiefs Embrace the Fantastic Stereotypes

In modern society we are – and rightly so – told to avoid stereotypes. But sometimes in rugby, it makes for one hell of a game. Glasgow Warriors v Exeter Chiefs in the Heineken Champions Cup was the game of the weekend and for good reason. It saw two rugby philosophies forced to fight each other.

It was like seeing Plato and Confucius being given 12oz gloves, ‘vas’ on the eyebrows and told to let rip in the ring. Glasgow’s backs were stunning, with George Horne once again proving that he needs to move up Scotland’s depth chart, whilst Exeter’s pack were simply unstoppable.

Some rugby fans may mock Exeter for scoring so many tries from five metres out, but when you can make the game look that easy, you are doing the hard things right. The final result, however, wasn’t left to the rugby’s philosophies, it was decided by the game’s gods – even as an atheist there is no other explanation. They simply could not allow Stuart Hogg to kick a 60m kick, to win the game, at his previous club. Well played, all.


We Need a Stat for Tries Disallowed

Modern rugby loves numbers. Stats are a core component of understanding the game. Which makes it seem all the stranger that ‘tries disallowed’ aren’t recorded as a meaningful number in the game.

We all understand the relevance of possession, territory, tackle percentages etc. But in the modern game, the number of tries disallowed is as great an indicator of attacking primacy, as any. The reality is that the number of tries scored doesn’t reflect the attacking domination that many teams have. Before the use of technology, most marginal decisions were given.

That is no longer the case. Finishing a try is no longer an indication of a team’s ability to create those opportunities. Much like the shots-on-target stat that illustrates how successful Liverpool have been this season, supporters need to be aware of how many tries have been created.

If someone can sort that, it would be great. Cheers.


The Leinster Bit

In our regular Leinster feature, Leinster are still amazing. This week’s cannon fodder were Lyon. It didn’t look so much ‘men v boys’ as ‘men v toys’. Join us next week to see how much they win by. In all seriousness, a special mention for Max Deegan who is becoming a massive problem for defenders.


Ospreys Problems a Real Worry

It doesn’t matter how many problems you have in the boardroom, you shouldn’t lose to a 14-man team in elite rugby. But the Ospreys did. Yes, they have lost to Saracens, but this wasn’t ‘pre-salary cap Saracens. This was ‘We’ve been caught, WTF are we going to do about the Champion’s Cup?!’ Saracens.

In short, Saracens sent a second team to the Liberty, which was cut to 14 men after six minutes, and also played with 13 men for a period. Whilst many rightly had concerns about Ospreys before this game, this was the turning point. When 15 men can’t beat 14, you’ve got a problem.

When even Alun-Wyn Jones can’t bail you out, that problem gets upgraded to a crisis. Dan Evans and Luke Morgan were fantastic in defeat. But the word defeat is starting to lose its meaning at Ospreys. And that really is a worry.


Your Problem May be with the Protocol, Not the Tackle?

Most companies have to pay for focus groups. They spend thousands on deciphering what people really think. But luckily, rugby has Twitter. And the game should put it to good use. At the moment, there is currently a 50/50 split on every high tackle situation.

The Rhys Carre tackle against Ospreys was the perfect example. It doesn’t even seem to be a lack of knowledge that splits the opinions. We have very experienced ex-players agreeing with supporters on the both sides of the debate. However, it seems that the debate isn’t being correctly framed at the moment.

The real question is do you understand the protocol, or just not like the protocol? Currently, the answers are blurred. We need to understand whether people are simply against the lowering of the tackle height, or don’t think the tackle protocol is being refereed correctly.

Let the debate begin.

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