Now before I get started on this, what I’m about to write isn’t a complaint as such, more of an observation. I’m not having a dig at the team in any way, if we’re winning that’s all that matters. What this blog is, is thinking out loud.
So far this season in the Pro12 and European Challenge Cup, we have scored 40 tries, with 17 different players getting on the scorers list. Across the 12 games that equates to 3.33 tries per game, not bad stats at all really. They’re stats that don’t quite reflect our league position, and in fact if the Pro12 was in order of points scored Cardiff would be second behind Connacht.
Looking at that you’d think it would be the defence that requires a blog. But what I’m looking at is how we’ve scored those tries. Of the 40 tries this season, just 17 have come from a move started outside the opposition 22. Why does it matter? Well, entertaining rugby puts bums on seats. Look at the win over Montpellier. We beat Connacht the week before after an impressive showing against Ospreys and the confidence was returning, but the second lowest attendance of the season of 4,602 was all we could manage against one of the bigger sides in Europe on a Friday night in an un-televised match.
This makes the try scoring stat a bit more important. Now I know that nearly all tries must start outside the 22 at some point, but what I’m looking at is scores that go from outside the 22 to the try line without a ruck being formed. As above, we have 17 of those so far this season, not too bad. But, when you take out the two interception tries (Summerhill v Connacht (a) and Cuthbert v Montpellier (h)) and Patchell’s first v Zebre (h) as it was just a hack on from a Zebre knock on, we have actually only created 14 tries from outside the 22. Then consider that 9 of those 14 came in thumpings of Zebre and Calvisano you end up with five tries coming from Cardiff outside the 22 in 10 games.
The point? We are relying too heavily on the forwards to get us over the line with power, and not creating a spectacle for spectators. If you offered any rugby fan a choice between watching a well worked midfield move ending with a brilliant try, or a catch-and-drive/pick-and-go try from five metres out, the vast majority would pick the former. I’d suggest up to 100% of younger fans would certainly want to see the ball go through the hands to set a Tom James or Alex Cuthbert free down the wing. It’s far easier on the eye and encourages the not entirely convinced fans out there back down to CAP with the promise of exciting and attractive rugby.
There are two ways to increase our percentage of well-worked midfield tries as I see it. Firstly, a greater discipline of each payer positionally. Too often we end up with second rows or props out wide where they just aren’t needed. Get the fat men in the middle of the pitch ready to either carry the ball into contact if that’s what’s needed for a phase, or to get stuck into a breakdown and create quick ball for the backs. Leave the expansive play to the quick boys.
The second thing is to pick quick boys who can actually create something. The name that keeps cropping up in this respect is Gavin Evans. Now I like Gav, he works bloody hard and is solid in defence. The problem though, is he offers very little in attack. I’d like to see, especially against one of the Welsh derbies over Christmas, Rey Lee Lo given a go at 12 and either Garyn Smith or a fit-again Cory Allen at 13. I know Lee Lo’s tackling hasn’t set the world alight so far, but he put in a shift against Scotland for Samoa in the World Cup so he can do it, maybe a bit of responsibility will bring it out of him.
As I said at the start, it’s not a criticism as such because we are turning the screw and starting to win games, so clearly nothing wrong with the way we’re playing to get results. Just going forward now as we look to the future and get back to the 2008-2010 level, I’d like to see some really good rugby on show, and get that feel good factor back at CAP.