Paul Williams: Stander is a Machine Designed to Turn Solids into Liquids

Adam Redmond
12 February 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 With no grey areas, entertainment and enlightenment are assured. A must follow on  Twitter  @thepaulwilliams

CJ Stander 2.0

Modern rugby has a tendency to make players ‘positionally fluid’. That is not a new gender, it serves to illustrate that elite rugby likes players who can play multiple positions, and styles when required. One player who you would not associate with being ‘positionally fluid’ is CJ Stander. Yes, he plays six and eight, but they all do that. The point is that Stander has always been a carrying machine. A machine designed to turn solids into liquids and his entire carrier has been built on that.

But that was CJ Stander 1.0. What we are now witnessing is Stander 2.0 – the upgrade. His jackaling against Wales was outstanding and as good as any openside in Round Two of the Guinness Six Nations. As his name suggests, once he is standing over the ball, he isn’t easy to put on the deck. He did of course get a yellow card in the last few minutes, for some iffy technique over the ball, but by then the damage had been done. Stander has clearly realised that Caelen Doris and Max Deegan have triple threat backrow skillsets and he is adapting. And adapting well. Well played, once again, CJ.

Welsh supporters need to learn a skill

Sizable sections of Welsh supporters were critical of Wales’ performance against Ireland. Criticism of certain players’ skillsets were prominent on social media and Wayne Pivac’s name was already being dragged through the dust, if not the mud. But it is perhaps the Welsh supporters that needs to up their skillset, to include patience – that is arguably the biggest ‘work-on’ before Wales play France. To lose in Ireland is not a shock. Plenty of great Welsh sides have lost there, a few under Warren Gatland.

Wales were competitive in most areas and had Hadleigh Parkes had the handspan of Le Bron James, the game would have been very different. But by far the biggest call for patience involves the fact that this was only Pivac’s second meaningful game.

Do you really think it is reasonable to expect Pivac to implement a more expansive game plan in just 160 minutes of rugby? The Welsh back three are now getting used to running far more ball back from deep, than under Gatland. You just need to look at Leigh Halfpenny’s approach to running kick-returns, from outside the 22m line, to realise that Pivac places far more importance on counter attack.

Wales offloaded the ball twice as many times as Ireland, most notably in the forwards, where Alun-Wyn Jones was regularly looking for the offload in midfield when faced with a single tackler. Pivac is trying to change Wales’ skillset, and it may be that supporters also need to up their ‘patience stats’ if this is to work.

Italy using Canna properly

Italy may have lost to France, but their performance in the second half was one of their most attractive, if not effective performances of the past five seasons. As with Wales, they are looking to play differently, and it is beginning to work. Other than a few rare occasions where Carlos Canna was sent down the twelve channel like a sheep being delivered to the slaughter house, Italy’s use of Canna was far more effective.

With 11 passes, Canna delivered as many balls as Tommaso Allen, the outside half, which is exactly the point of playing a distributing twelve – Canna actually completed almost double the passes of any other centre in Round Two. It wasn’t just Canna who was key to this new approach. Jake Polledri, Braam Steyn, Sebastian Negri and the impressive Dean Budd, were always looking for the space, not just the smack, when carrying. Italy may still be losing, but at least they’re trying something different.

The previous approach has led to their worst losing streak in history, at least this new approach is pretty.

Wind changes everything

Anyone with over 60k followers on social media can be considered a big name in rugby. But with gusts over of 60mph, the wind is still the greatest influencer in the game. Its impact in BT Murrayfield was devastating and pulped both coaches’ plans in seconds. But perhaps most surprising, was that the players didn’t seem to adapt.

Whether it was through a dedication to carrying out what the bosses had decreed, or a lack of leadership, they continued executing a game plan that clearly wasn’t working. To see experienced test players continually launching touchline hugging box kicks, in 60mph winds, was frustrating. It’s not as though the box kicks were just drifting into touch, some of them were landing in Amsterdam.

At one stage Willie Heinz kicked more box kicks, directly into touch, than there are beans in a tin. It really does make you wonder how much control modern players have over the game plan, or as Finn Russell has alluded to, that they are just following coaches’ orders regardless. 

Scotland should have only one regret

You can’t blame any players or coaches for Scotland’s loss to England. The conditions were ridiculous. You could have stuck Bear Grylls at scrumhalf and he’d have struggled. But there was one aspect of their performance that was nearly as confusing as the wind. With just seconds to go and a converted try needed to draw the game, Ali Price decided to wait ten seconds, setup a ruck-train, and then put up a box kick.

Even if putting the ball up in the air, for a 50/50 chance of recovery on the half way line, was the prudent option, why would you waste valuable time, and stack the ruck with potential kick chasers, when you could just pop it straight up? It made no sense. Almost as little sense as Italy kicking the ball into touch when they had the opportunity to secure a losing bonus point in Paris.

The wind may not have only blown the ball around in Round Two, it appeared to have blown some brains out also.

Rugby needs weather visuals

When you’re watching sports, where the weather has a major impact on proceedings, they tend to give you that information on screen. Golf for example gives you all the relevant info, and rugby needs to follow suit. Watching the games in Round Two was very difficult given that you had no idea in which direction the wind was blowing, nor at what speed.

It also contributes to viewers unfairly criticising players, especially goalkickers, when the full facts aren’t available. Even if the conditions aren’t extreme, understanding the forces impacting on a shot at goal can only enhance the supporters’ experience. Stick a little wind direction graphic in the corner for goal-kicks and for major line-kicks and the game would be better for it. Thanks in advance, Paul


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