From the joy of Semi Radradra to the despair of laughable bans, Paul Williams reflects on rugby’s recent goings-on
Semi Radradra signing proves power of Premiership
The English Premiership has always attracted quality players from overseas. Since the game has turned professional, the value of English club rugby has been a flame to the most beautiful of rugby moths.
However, Bristol Bears’ signing of Semi Radradra feels different. It seems like the signing that has tipped the balance of ‘signature power’ from the Top 14 to the Premiership.
Radradra may not have been voted World Rugby’s Player of the Year, but he is ‘THE’ marquee player in the global game. He’s also one of those rare players who attracts the buying power of both rugby codes, which often drives the price even higher – see Latrell Mitchell.
He is arguably the only player in the world who plays well regardless of the team around him. He isn’t reliant on possession, territory or quality players in the channels next to him – he can do it on his own.
You could throw Radradra a potato behind his own try-line and by the time he’d carried it to the other try-line, it would have become triple-cooked chips with balsamic vinegar and organic sea salt. I cannot wait to see him play in the Premiership.
Finn Russell’s M-egg
All of the greatest athletes end up either becoming known by their first name or by a ‘move’ that they made famous. In basketball we have Michael and LeBron, the Larry Bird ‘Fadeaway’ and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s ‘Skyhook’. Football has Cristiano, Sir Alex and the ‘Cruyff’ turn. Now, rugby has the Finn Russell ‘M-egg’.
It is similar to a nutmeg in football, but far more impressive. Firstly, it is accomplished using a ball whose shape renders it as reliable as an election manifesto. But by far the biggest difference between the rugby and football ‘meg’ is the fact that in football the defender is barely allowed to touch you, whereas in rugby they can still mangle you.
Russell’s creative assault on Rory Scannell’s legs was beautiful, but perhaps more importantly it showed how more effective creative outside-halves can be when behind a dominant pack.
Russell is arguably the most creative ten in the world, yet he looks like a different player when playing for Scotland compared to Racing 92. With Scotland, there simply isn’t the forward platform that allows Russell to consistently create. With limited possession, in a Test environment, his decisions appear reckless and rash. Behind a dominant club pack, he looks like the creative genius that he is.
Biggar is thriving under Boyd
To those that have watched Dan Biggar play through his entire career, it will come as no surprise that he is demonstrating a three-dimensional skill-set at Northampton Saints. But to those who have only seen him play for Wales, his ability to step, play on the gain-line and throw insane reverse passes may seem incongruous.
The truth is Biggar has always had those skills, but under some coaches they haven’t been the priority – which is understandable given how accurate his kicking game is. Yet under Chris Boyd, the Super Rugby master, and arguably the freest flowing coach in the global game, Biggar looks like the ten that he always been.
Let’s be honest, it’s not just Biggar who has improved under Boyd. Northampton’s demolition of Tigers was as easy on the eye as it was on the scoreboard. Saints are back.
Six weeks for a gouge is laughable
It’s difficult to tell when British voters started becoming disaffected with politics, which they clearly are. Sadly, the same is now true with rugby’s disciplinary process. That La Rochelle’s Pierre Bourgarit received a six-week ban for a blatant gouge is worrying.
This wasn’t some 1980s gouge delivered in a dark, sweaty, ruck with just anecdotal evidence to account for it. This was live on TV. In front of your eyes, my eyes and, most importantly, Tom Curry’s eyes.
Bourgarit didn’t clumsily go for a head grab and then slide down for the gouge, nor did he go for a throat grab and then slide up. He looked like a free-climber feeling for a dent from which to pull. The gouge is the filthiest of all filth in rugby and for it to be worth just such-and-such weeks, reduced to such-and-such weeks, due to such-and-such previous record and such-and-such an apology is laughable.
Social media has even stopped making jokes about the lottery of disciplinary panels. There was a time when jokes about taking good quality biscuits and wearing a tie to reduce the punishment were very popular on Twitter. Not any more. When people can’t even be bothered to make fun of rugby’s disciplinary issues, you know you’ve got a real problem.
Dragon’s have a golden back row in the making
In a period when we’re discussing the breaking of salary caps, it is pleasing to see the Dragons (a team that never has to worry about breaking a salary cap) discovering a special group of back-row forwards.
Aaron Wainwright, Ollie Griffiths and Taine Basham have the making of an entire Wales back row, grown organically, from one club. In Wainwright, they have a six/eight who has already shown that he can cope with Test rugby. He has the contact work of a Test-level six and the pace and ball-carrying of a regional centre.
Griffiths has the build and game of Sam Warburton and will only improve further by playing under the tutelage of his carbon-copy when he becomes a regular Wales squad member.
In Basham, and his explosive carrying, they may have the makings of a young Ardie Savea. Tom Curry and Sam Underhill may be the new generation of back-row forwards who are currently getting the headlines, but you’ll be hearing plenty about the new Dragons’ unit. That is a certainty.
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