Wednesday 22 November 2017

Neil Francis: Liam Williams a shoo-in for best actor in non-sporting role

Williams' 'performance' after Keith Earls tackle would give Leonardo Di Caprio a run for his money on Oscar night

Liam Williams of Wales is dumped by Keith Earls of Ireland
Liam Williams of Wales is dumped by Keith Earls of Ireland
Neil Francis

Neil Francis

I wasn't sure whether to accept my invitation to the Oscars in three weeks' time. I was absolutely numb when not one Chinese film or actor received a nomination - bloody academy. No diversity anywhere.

Last week Valentino rang the missus to see if he should finish the dress. Under duress we have decided to go. Then I find on Monday that Liam Williams evocative and persuasive film 'Yellow Card' didn't get a late nomination.

It's a travesty, one of the finest performances of a generation and the academy refuse to acknowledge it. I met Leo Di Caprio leaving the Aviva on Sunday. He tearfully confided in me that 'The Revenant' would have come a distant second - 'Liam is the finest method actor of the 21st century. He is the light we are all drawn to.'

Thirty minutes had elapsed in last Sunday's game when Keith Earls tackled Liam Williams. The way Earls positioned himself for contact was excellent. Head leaning a little to the left, low body position, knees bent and a wide arm reach - Liam Williams would be going to ground when the tackle was executed. The only question would be how he arrived there.

7 February 2016; Liam Williams, Wales, and Andrew Trimble, Ireland, contest a loose ball. RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship 2016, Ireland v Wales. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

As the wrap came from Earls, Williams, maybe in an attempt to reverse roll out of the tackle, jumped into the air about a foot or so and pirouetted to the open side of the field. Suddenly the dynamic of the tackle changes. Williams also seemed to look for the offload as he turned.

Earls did straighten his knee and stood tall in contact. The elevation and the force of contact meant that Williams' body would go through the horizontal as Earls' tackle slid lower down the Welsh full-back's legs. In a three-second microcosm, where powerful athletes collide and there are about 20 moving parts in both athletes' bodies at a given time, anything can happen.

Williams tipped over the horizontal and he came down head first. Earls did not follow through and he released his arms as Williams went to ground.

In the heat of a frenzied Test match it is faintly ridiculous to say that a tackler has a duty of care to ensure that the ball carrier comes down safely. While you are carefully ensuring that your opponent doesn't hurt himself, you, yourself can get smashed in a clear-out as the moment of tender loving care ends once the ball carrier hits the turf. Ask anyone who has been in a car crash - the first thing they will tell you is that "it all happened so quickly". There is also very little control.

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Of the 308 tackles in the match last Sunday, there were some far more dangerous tackles where the tackler or the ball carrier had very little or no control.

Given the nature of the tackle - it is noteworthy that as Williams went to ground he was in control of his destiny. He broke his fall with his left arm which was bent at the perpendicular. Williams' head did not hit the ground and he did not receive any blow of any kind while the ruck went on around him.

As play continued, Ireland had turned the ball over and kicked into Welsh territory before play was called back. Laurence Olivier was lying motionless on the deck as everyone returned to the scene of the crime.

The Welsh medics had radioed for a helicopter to Stoke Mandeville when all of a sudden Lazarus of Bethany hears the words, "I am the resurrection and the life, he that believeth in me though he were dead, yet shall he live."

For an encore Williams gets up and does a couple of neck stretches - ever so gingerly - and strolls back to his position to a standing ovation with garlands flying and 'bravo, bravo' ringing in his ears. "Leo Di Caprio eat my kaks."

Conor Murray races out in an attempt to block Rhys Priestland’s late drop goal which sailed wide. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile

The score at that stage was 13-0. Priestland nails the penalty and Wales are on the board. I am not going to use the term 'clumsy challenge' because there is such a lack of precision and certainty about any type of tackle. Every tackle in a Test match has a high quotient of danger in it. Earls was just doing his job - bringing the man down.

Every time there is a challenge like that there is at least a penalty. Earls effected another challenge in the second half which was borderline as well.

Referees are told to police that tackle strictly but in truth some of the things I see at lineouts or kick-offs - when players are nearly six feet in the air and completely dependent on team-mates for safety as they go for the ball - These situations are often far more dangerous but are not policed as rigorously.

Back to the kernel of the story. Williams, to my mind, was not seriously hurt in the contact - he received far harder tackles elsewhere throughout yet stayed for an unnecessarily long period on the ground.

Referees quite often assess what damage if any has happened to the ball carrier after a tip tackle. Players stay on the ground and play dead to try and fool the referee. To my mind, Williams knew he was getting the penalty but a penalty and Ireland's left wing in the bin until half-time, now that would be a good day's work.

I have seen 10-14 point swings when teams are a man down. Wales had the bit between their teeth at that stage and indeed Earls had to be very good on a couple of occasions in the first half as Wales pressed down the right wing. Wales could easily have scored two tries as they pressurised in the last 10 minutes of the first half.

Referee Jerome Garces. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile

Jerome Garces overall had a decent enough game. He missed a couple of things but a low penalty count of 7-6 kept the game flowing - so we can thank him for that. Even though intent is not a factor, Earls' tackle was worthy of a penalty.

In the ladies game (soccer), Premier League referees quite often book players with worthless yellow cards for diving and looking for the penalty. Garces might have mentioned that to Williams as he sauntered back to his position.

It would have to be a very strong referee who would give the penalty the other way for trying to milk these type of situations.

In fairness, Garces gave short shrift to Welsh captain Sam Warburton when he enquired as to what the sanction should be. I am not mad about Liam Williams and have had call to comment about some of his previous behaviour.

The next time he lies on the floor 'injured' he better be sure that someone does not give him a legitimate reason to stay down .

As regards this Saturday, I had a €1 bet with a colleague in the press box that Ireland would not score again after half-time.

With 73 minutes gone, a bacon cheeseburger was on the menu until Johnny Sexton knocked one over in the 74th minute - Ireland's first score since the 27th minute.

If Joe Schmidt's side have an Achilles heel it is that they regularly go for long periods of the game without scoring.

In Paris, more than anywhere else the phrase 'keeping the scoreboard ticking over' is never more pertinent. Ireland with a stronger team can upset the French.

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