Um..right. A disaster of an afternoon in Parma where Cardiff were thoroughly ‘Italian Job’d’ by a resurgent Zebre outfit a world away from the side who shipped 11 tries at Arms Park in September. How to approach this? There’s the ‘absolutely dreadful, this is the end of the World, Wilson out’ way, or there’s the more measured ‘disappointing but early in the season and Wilson’s reign, no panicking yet’ viewpoint.
If you’d asked me after the game on Saturday, it would’ve been the first option, where I, quite rightly along with other fans, was extremely annoyed and quite frankly embarrassed by the performance. In fairness to even Danny Wilson, he came out and said “We can’t hide away from the fact that the first half was embarrassing.”
“It was a performance where our defence was diabolical; there were one-on-one missed tackles that cost us dearly. We had so much to do and in the second half we got ourselves back into the game and then failed to finish. The end of the game was all them again. I’ve used the word embarrassing for the performance and it is just that. There were a lot of errors and we have a huge amount to work on.”
The game was setup to be some time to let off steam for Cardiff. Four tough games of close losses in Ireland since we faced Zebre in the first game of the season, and a win was long overdue. The squad that had battled hard across the Irish Sea was boosted by the return of World Cup players Blaine Scully and Lloyd Williams to the match day 23, while Tom James recovered from injury to take his rightful place on the wing. The only other major piece of team news was fit-again Ellis Jenkins replacing newly injured Cam Dolan.
So it’s a team with two international standard wingers, a Welsh international half-back pairing behind a similar quality back row, and an experienced tight five, yet four minutes into the game, half-back pairing Burgess and Canna produced neat offloads to send Van Zyl over. 5-0 down and on the back foot, but straight back we hit. The back three of Fish, Scully and James gave us front foot ball, the forwards drove us on, before Patchell threw a beautiful pass for Adam Thomas to finish in the corner. Last-gasp defence and mistakes were the name of the Cardiff game. Winger Sarto was pushed into touch just short of the line, then a handling error in midfield gave possession back to Zebre. Pratichetti was stopped by Fish, but a quick recycle meant the ball found it’s way to number 8 Dries Van Schalkwyk, who’s converted score put the home side 12-5 up. Backs against the wall time for Cardiff, but the wall couldn’t cope with the weight, or with Canna. A little chip over the top and flanker Johan Meyer scooped up the ball to score the Italians third. Patchell put a penalty between the posts, but 19-8 down at half-time is not ideal by any standard.
You can only imagine there were a few choice words from Danny Wilson at half-time, but there was definitive action as Craig Mitchell replaced the increasingly ineffectual, and continuously pointless, Tau Filise, while Lloyd Williams was brought on in place of the lethargic Tavis Knoyle. Straight away the unlikely star Welsh winger of the World Cup was in the thick of the action. Firstly, a brilliant tackle denied Canna a deserved try, before a clean break through the middle of the pitch meant he could draw in the full-back and send James on a clear run to the line. 20 minutes to go and on the ascendency it was looking good for Cardiff, and things improved, despite a Patchell penalty miss, when de Marchi was sin binned. At four points down and playing 14-men, there is no excuse for what happened next. Not only did we not threaten the line, but yet more poor discipline gave Zebre a line out in the redzone. It was well taken and the resulting drive sent Van Schalkwyk over for his second. Canna nailed the extras to round off a fantastic performance by the outside half, and rub the score line into Cardiff faces.
Full time: Zebre 26-15 Cardiff
Not good enough on any level from Cardiff. The defence, and particularly discipline was poor, the attack and goal kicking wasn’t good enough and the attitude was just bad, for want of a better word. To single out a specific player is harsh, but I was extremely disappointed in Patchell on Saturday. His insistence on playing a ‘free role’ at fly-half rather than standing at first receiver controlling the game is very frustrating, especially when the back line is so obviously struggling against the Zebre blitz defence. Also a point I made on Twitter, about the third time Danny Wilson has taken an outside back off, to put Gareth Davies on, and move Patchell wide. No matter how poor Patchell is, Davies is just not the answer in the crucial part of the game unfortunately. However, the coach with the most scrutiny this week should be Graham Steadman as the supposed ‘defence guru’ watched us ship yet more points.
As I said at the start though, it’s not quite panic stations yet. We’re only six games into the season and Wilson’s reign, with five coming on the road during a World Cup. It has certainly been a baptism of fire for the new regime, and perhaps the last few weeks took it’s toll on the squad. Wilson has already reacted better than his predecessors in Mark Hammett and Phil Davies to a poor loss, not pulling any punches in public, or in private you can assume. With the return of all the internationals providing a welcome boost and a return to Cardiff Arms Park for a huge game with champions Glasgow, it’s time to get behind the team. Come on Cardiff!