Paul Williams delivers his verdict on rugby’s recent happenings
Italy deliver result of the season
March saw some fantastic results in rugby. Moana Pasifika beat the Hurricanes and Fijian Drua beat the Rebels. But when we’re looking at teams sticking up one finger to rugby’s elite (to represent an important single victory and nothing more), Italy’s win over Wales in Cardiff was right up there with the biggest of all time.
On social media over the past 18 months, the Italian rugby team have taken a bigger kicking than an openside playing in the mid-Eighties. And their right to play in the Six Nations has been interrogated to the point where the CPS nearly became involved. But with one momentous victory, they have now hopefully bought themselves some time.
Related: Italy stun Wales 22-21 to end their losing run
Some time to bring through their squad of talented U20s. Time for Paolo Garbisi to become the ten that he promises to be. And time for Ange Capuozzo, the young full-back, to become a genuine star of the tournament.
We’ve read some worrying reports this week about the possible dismantling of Italy’s age-grade programmes in a rejig that makes about as much sense as Putin, but hopefully this won’t stop Italy from making progress.
Owen Farrell doesn’t shoulder the blame
Will Smith’s slap may have grabbed the headlines on the final weekend in March, but for those who see the Gallagher Premiership as the Oscars of club rugby, it was Owen Farrell’s shoulders that once again were plastered all over social media.
Against Bristol, we saw Farrell deliver his ‘Venus de Milo’ tackle and receive no punishment. Whilst the on-field answer to the question ‘Was there foul play?’ was no, the answers to many other questions remain less clear. Does Farrell have a genuine problem with his technique? Or are biased supporters on a witch-hunt?
The number of times this issue has cropped up can make one paranoid on such matters. Are a succession of referees simply not applying the law to one player? Or are supporters and pundits not understanding the law fully?
The situation was arguably made worse as it was Farrell’s first game for months. And during those four months, the issue of dangerous tackles and concussion has progressed more than it arguably has over the past four decades.
Aside from the incident, Farrell played well considering the lay-off. But at some point, the game needs clarity on the Farrell situation.
Wales Women look fully professional
Wales beat Ireland, in Ireland, in their opening fixture in the Women’s Six Nations and looked every inch the professional rugby team that they now are. To see a 14-5 half-time deficit spun into a 19-27 full-time victory is a rarity and a beautiful rarity at that. But one that you could put down to the fact 12 Wales players are now fully professional and another dozen are on semi-pro deals.
Wales spent almost 15 minutes in Ireland’s half, with 25% of their possession coming in Ireland’s 22. But the most important numbers come from Wales’ ability to score in the final period of the game.
It may be a bit soon to suggest that a second-half turnaround like that is due purely to new levels of fitness, but being able to deliver in the final 40 minutes, and more particularly the final 20 minutes, is exactly the type of quick gain that 24/7 access to players will provide.
Hannah Jones’s try in the final minute was the perfect example. A dominant scrum was followed by three fluid passes to the right. From there Jones burned more grass than a drunk dad lighting a BBQ. Wales’ women have started the pro era, with a pro performance. Awesome.
Dupont’s almost a deep fake
There is a clip doing the rounds on Twitter that is so ridiculous it almost looks like a deepfake. It features Antoine Dupont playing against Lyon, and in the dying minutes of the match completing a passage of play that no nine has ever completed in the history of the game.
In short, Dupont picked up the ball from the base of a ruck in his own 22. Threw a dummy left, faked-out three defenders, then stepped back inside. He then leg-drives through two defenders (with two latches) for about ten metres (at the speed of a moped), retains the ball, and then emerges from the mass like a white dove being released from the gloved palm of a magician.
Not content with this, he then beats one more defender, before throwing a floated miss-four straight into the gap out wide. Watch it here…
For a player of that size to require a double/triple tackle is remarkable and it has nothing to do with his low centre of gravity. It’s because he IS gravity.
The ten-pointer is now a thing
Snooker has the 147. Darts has the nine-darter. Now rugby has the ten-pointer. We saw it from Saracens against Leicester, and it was beautiful. Alex Lewington finished a clinical first-phase try in the left-hand corner, untouched.
At least he was untouched until the try was scored, then Kini Murimurivalu slid in with a pointless hit that was penalised. As pointless a late challenge as it was, as all those late challenges are, it gave Saracens a penalty restart on the halfway line and the ten-pointer was on.
Alex Lozowski nailed both the conversion and the penalty, from the halfway line, and with it delivered one of the sweetest scores in rugby – the ten-pointer.
France’s Grand Slam brings a smile
It’s not until you reach your mid-40s that you realise just how difficult it is to win a Six Nations Grand Slam. As a more youthful supporter, a Grand Slam just seems like winning five matches in a row. As you become older and more jaded, you somehow become more aware of their rarity. Possibly because you realise how few you’ve seen even after watching rugby for the best part of 30 years.
France’s Slam was particularly pleasing. Not only has it brought French rugby back to its dominant best, but it was domination with a smile. Somehow being beaten by that French team doesn’t seem like being stretched on the rack, more a tickle on the ribs.
France now have a group of players who can genuinely win a Rugby World Cup and if they aren’t your second favourite Test team you need to have a long hard look at yourself.
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