From Callum Sheedy's arrival to Maro Itoje’s discipline, Paul Williams gives his verdict on recent rugby happenings


Callum Sheedy a genuine contender

Callum Sheedy, or Calm Sheedy as he shall now be known, moved up Wales’ Test ladder with his performance against England. What he delivered shouldn’t be underestimated.

Callum Sheedy a genuine contender

Callum Sheedy launches an attack against England (Getty Images)

Wales have long been looking for a creative option at ten who was also solid enough to perform the Dan Biggar role, and that’s exactly what he delivered.

Prior to the England game, Sheedy was in the same category of promising tens as Jarrod Evans et al – those who offer a creative solution but not enough solidity, as yet, in the ‘ugly’ stuff. That is no longer the case for Sheedy. His control of the game was immaculate.

Yes, there were the two clean breaks and defenders beaten, which supporters love to see, but his goalkicking, tactical kicking and defence were bang-on.

Sheedy has been instrumental in a new approach from Wales over the past few games, where they have tempered Wayne Pivac’s natural desire to attack from anywhere and only attack when it’s necessary. Against England they scored four tries, with just four line breaks.

Sheedy is no longer the young pretender, but the genuine contender. Well played, Calm Sheedy.

Maro Itoje penalty count a concern

This column has long been a fan of Maro Itoje. Who isn’t? He is the best lock in the northern hemisphere and approaching being the best in the world. His ‘basics’ are immaculate and he comes with more ‘extras’ than a Happy Meal.

However, excessive penalty counts have now also been added to the extras column. Itoje has always conceded penalties simply because he is involved in the game to such a degree that his numbers reflect those of an openside flanker more than a lock.

England lock Maro Itoje conceded five penalties against Wales (Getty Images)

Over the past decade we have seen plenty of players who ‘play on the edge’, but there comes a point where the edge becomes a cliff and performances slide from the green and pleasant land straight into the sea.

Against Wales, it happened. England’s penalty count, as a whole, was hefty. As a team, they conceded 14. The problem is, five of those came from Itoje. The England lock conceded more penalties than the back five of the Welsh pack combined and that group includes ball-hungry back-rows who love a ‘jackal’.

The question over Itoje’s penalty count isn’t overly relevant at England level. He will continue to be selected and deliver ridiculous performance levels, as he has done throughout his career. However, it could well affect his ability to captain the British & Irish Lions. Cut the penalty count to two or three a game and he could lead the Lions.

Related: Wales v England Match Verdict

Refereeing is hard

Nothing more to add.

Super Rugby Aotearoa instant quality

If you genuinely love Super Rugby Aotearoa, finding out after months of nervous negotiations that it would be broadcast through RugbyPass was a big moment. A moment worthy of special cake, a celebratory dinner or even a tattoo on the arm next to that of your children.

If you’d chosen the rash tattoo option, you wouldn’t have had any regrets having seen the opening games. They were simply stunning. It was a rust-free zone. There was no build-up, no excuses for pre-season bleariness, it was instant quality.

Sevu Reece’s performance for the Crusaders was remarkable, so too was Codie Taylor’s try – a player who, along with Dane Coles, is blurring the role of hooker to a point that you need to squint to see it.

The quality of handling from the Hurricanes can only really be compared to that of a computer game, whilst the Blues started the season like the genuine title contenders that they are. The Blues played with three legit outside-halves in the back-line and have a back row that makes you salivate on your legs.

Covid hasn’t brought many positives, but one is Super Rugby Aotearoa. It has delivered the most concentrated form of creative rugby that the game has ever seen. It’s like drinking honey straight from the jar.

Balex Homdranp for England!

It seems that if you mention a player being unfairly overlooked for England that it actually decreases the chances of Eddie Jones picking them.

Alex Dombrandt is a great example – maybe we should start calling him Balex Homdranp! His recent performances for Harlequins have been exemplary – especially going forward. And his attacking skill-set is something that England’s current back-row options are missing.

Bam Bimmonds also falls into this category. Good luck Balex and Bam!

Jordie Barrett kicking too well

The standard of goalkicking in professional rugby is remarkable and hugely underrated as a skill – especially at Test level. Kicking more than 80% of your kicks, under submarine-like pressure, is what separates club kickers from elite kickers. But is it possible to kick the ball too well?

Well, Jordie Barrett has moved into that territory. His kicking in the opening game of Super Rugby Aotearoa was stunning. Even when kicking from near the halfway line, on the touchline, the ball was above the level of the posts when crossing the bar.

And herein lies the problem. If you kick too powerfully, ie. too high, it risks floating directly over the post and bringing in an element of human interpretation from the assistant referees. And so, it proved.

Barrett was denied a kick that looked good to many. So, do yourself a favour Jordie, miss the sweet spot and your percentage may inversely go up.

England’s weird relationship with relegation

The Gallagher Premiership has rightly, in my view, removed relegation for this season. Covid has created an unusual situation and therefore an unusual resolution was required. But what’s interesting is not that relegation was removed, but the reaction to it.

Discussing relegation in English rugby is like discussing evolution in Kentucky and the fallout on social media can be just as vociferous.

Even if you don’t agree with removing relegation, to some you aren’t even allowed to mention it without being cast into the fiery pits of hell. Even if you don’t want to remove relegation, at least be open to discussing it. Otherwise, it’s stopping rugby from evolving.

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