As we have now reached the half-way point of the regular season it is time for the mid-term report. The first part of Danny Wilson’s regime has been up and down, well more like down and up actually, as a slow start to the season has been improved upon in recent weeks. Let’s have a look in more detail;
Starting with these as that is how the season started really. The opening game thrashing of an under-strength Zebre aside, it was six straight defeats for Cardiff as we hit the road due to the Arms Park being used by World Cup fans. The first four of those came out in Ireland as we toured the Emerald Isle, all tough games of course, but it would’ve been nice to come hom with at least one win.
The negatives really come from here, as there was something lacking from each performance. If it wasn’t poor tackling and breakdown work it was unforced errors in attack, or just a general lack of commitment and passion. It seemed like every time Danny Wilson focused on one aspect on the training ground, another part of the game would go out the window, and this led to the lowpoint of losing away to Zebre with an all-round shocking performance.
Early on in Wilson’s reign there is always going to be some teething problems, but it’s just about developing that consistency that has been lacking now. Of course this hasn’t been helped by a number of injuries, particularly in the back row as at one point Sam Warburton, Ellis Jenkins and Josh Navidi were all out.
Out of that loss to Zebre in Italy came the positives however. It seemed to give the coaching staff the material needed to properly deliver a kick up the backside needed. Performances slowly improved, with a narrow loss to Pro12 champions Glasgow preceding a battering of Calvisano. The real showing of the pickup in form and confidence came against league leaders Connacht though, with a 20-16 win capping off a vastly improved performance in defence especially. Credit has to go to Graham Steadman for really putting in the work with the squad in that respect and it was very pleasing to see him standing behind the defensive line on the pitch and working them throughout the 80 minutes.
The other positive has been the much improved ability to retain possession and go through the phases, especially in the opposition 22. The majority of our tries have come from close range pick and drives or individual efforts from 10 metres, and that’s largely due to the improved composure and discipline in that final sector of the pitch. Just to improve on the midfield play from deep now…
There have been a number of good individual player performances so far this season. Starting with the younger players, we have seen in the front row the emergence of Ethan Lewis at hooker and Dillon Lewis at tighthead. Both have made their debuts under Danny Wilson and been given opportunities to show their talents, which they have taken to be fair. Dillon in particular has impressed, with his scrummaging performance after coming on against Montpellier away a highlight.
Behind the scrum there has also been a number of encouraging displays from senior academy players as well. Early in the season it was Aled Summerhill setting the pace with two tries against Zebre and a further one against Connacht away, but a yellow card against Ulster turned into a few weeks ban for the winger and he hasn’t featured for the first team since. His mantle as top performing academy back has definitely been taken by fly-half Jarrod Evans since then. After three substitute appearances he got his chance to start at Ospreys with Rhys Patchell concussed and he hasn’t looked back, playing 160 minutes against Montpellier and more than holding his own. His defence needs work, but that will come as he matures and he’s proved to be capable of taking over Patchell’s role at 10.
Talking of Patchell, he falls under the umbrella of ‘usual suspects’ with good perforamances. Along with Ellis Jenkins, Gethin Jenkins, Kris Dacey, Josh Turnbull, Lloyd Williams and Josh Navidi, the core of the squad have been as consistent as ever, injury and World Cup duty dependent. There should also be special shoutouts for Dan Fish and Manoa Vosawai who have improved performances a great deal, and for 83 year old Tau Filise who has been the very definition of putting your body on the line when others around him were perhaps not as committed.
Aims and Objectives
During the rest of the season Cardiff should just be looking at keeping the momentum going and continuing the improvements being made. As it is Danny Wilson’s first season I don’t see much value in saying ‘we must be aiming for the top six of the Pro12’ or ‘it is imperative to qualify for the Challenge Cup quarter-finals’. Yes, it would of course be nice if those things were to happen, but it’s not the be all and end all.
It has to be a one game at a time mentality where forward strides are made. With the signings that have been confirmed and those that are being rumoured, the squad for next season is really forming. The players in the team now need to make sure they are playing well to keep their places, and to provide that confident platform to really challenge next year.
Overall Grade – C+
It’s a pass that is more than scrape, but still with room for improvement. The key to the whole thing, in Danny Wilson we trust.