Just over two months ago I wrote an article entitled ‘Lacking Midfield Flair‘ on the topic of how, despite being one of the top points and try scorers in the league, we did lack the ability to create tries from open play in the backs, having to rely heavily on the forwards driving over. Since then we have continued to score tries, and there were even some excellent moves from deep leading to tries, especially through Cory Allen, Tom James and Dan Fish over the festive period.
However, in recent weeks the wheels have literally fallen off our attack. Up until the Edinburgh game we had scored 62 tries in 17 games, which even without the two Calvisano thrashings was an average of three tries a game. Yet in the last three matches we have scored just a try a game. The first of those against the Scottish capital side was a score from our own half finished off by Fish, but as that was in the opening minutes of the match it means we are pushing 235 minutes of rugby without a score originating from outside the red zone.
This lack of ability to create tries has cost us 10 points in those three games I would say. In the win over Edinburgh we should easily have gained a try bonus point after dominating possession throughout the second half. We should then have beaten Treviso with a try bonus point, but that lack of ability to convert possession to tries, coupled with schoolboy mistakes, meant we fell to an embarrassing loss, with the same story a week later as we slipped to defeat against Leinster by a solitary point.
Cardiff 13-14 Leinster: https://cardiffbluesblog.wordpress.com/2016/02/21/cardiff-13-14-leinster/
So what to do about it? Well each game has presented slightly different challenges, and we’ve categorically failed to meet any of them. The Edinburgh game saw the basis of the problems come to the fore, as we dominated possession and territory but a seeming lack of patterns of play led us to looking pretty clueless at times. We spread the ball nicely off a set piece or restart, but once two or three rucks are down then there’s absolutely no direction to the attack.
Then up against Treviso and Leinster the weather was a big factor, with cold and rain in Italy matched by a gale force wind at the Arms Park. The basic idea was a good one, play a short and narrow driving game, keeping the ball and gaining yards. However, you can’t rely on plan A when plan A is so simple. The tactics were correct to start with, but allowances have to be made for certain situations. A prime example of that was in the second half against Leinster, with the wind at our backs and the away side figuring out our game, plus losing big ball carriers in substitutions, we needed variation.
Saracens, in their win over Gloucester last weekend, put on a masterclass in that. They had similar wind conditions on a plastic pitch against strong opposition. They played the tight, short game, but they threw in a give and go by the player at scrum-half, or a different running angle from a back, not just your straight forward crash ball.That back would be helped by forwards in ‘blocking’ positions providing gaps or weaker defensive shoulders to hit. They managed to win even with 14-men for most of the match.
It’s not difficult stuff at all, it’s just about little variations and trusting your players to play a bit. Those ‘blockers’ could become part of the attack, using the triangle formation where the man on the ball can go flat to the ball carrying option or back to the quick man hitting the line on an angle. Watch a few Wasps games from the last few weeks, a pleasure to view. It’s just about getting the right players in the right positions and letting them play rugby.
Unfortunately it all comes back to coaching, and Paul John has not covered himself in glory one bit. As I said in the Leinster match report, I gave Graham Steadman a lot of stick earlier in the season for the defence and that has been turned around very well. Now is the time for John to earn his money and get the attack organised. At the moment they just look like lost blokes wandering around the pitch. It’s not good enough for the fans who pay money to watch Cardiff, and to bring in the fans that don’t.