On Thursday night Cardiff Blues went down to a heavy defeat in Bath to lose top spot in Pool Four of the Challenge Cup. The 38-3 scoreline was a tough one to take, but not down to any tactical or performance issues in rugby terms. The problem for Cardiff was discipline, again.
In two second half minutes, with the score at 10-3, the game was turned on it’s head by two cards. Kirby Myhill received a yellow card for a tip tackle, before in the build up to Bath’s second try George Earle was dismissed for a possible eye gouge. A red card that in reality handed the game to the home side and, more importantly, ended Cardiff hopes of gaining a crucial losing bonus point.
Not for the first time this season we fans were left to bemoan ill-discipline that ultimately cost the side a chance to gain any sort of result. Whether the cards were deserved or not is another matter, but what’s difficult to argue with is that for each of the incidents that have involved Cardiff players this season, they have left the referee with a decision to make, and that’s asking for trouble.
It’s becoming a worrying trend, these cards costing league points, and it directly coincided with Cardiff’s drop in form. Josh Navidi’s yellow card against Leinster ended hope of a comeback in our first league loss, before Ospreys scored three tries in the 10 minutes that Dan Fish was in the sin bin at the Liberty Stadium to run away with the game.
In the Anglo-Welsh Cup, Kirby Myhill’s yellow card contributed to the floodgates opening during Exeter’s nine-try rout, while the next week a red card for Anton Peikrishvili handed the game to Ospreys on a plate at the Arms Park.
Back to the Pro12 and in the last game before the European break, Blaine Scully’s sin binning was punished by Ulster who scored two tries in 10 minutes, before Thursday night and the second half man disadvantage cost us a chance to compete at The Rec.
Overall it’s been 12 yellow cards and two red cards across Europe, Pro12 and Anglo-Welsh Cup action this season, a grand total of 14 cards in 16 games. When you consider I’ve exampled six of those games where the cards have directly impacted upon our ability to compete in a game, or even win it, it’s massively disappointing that the players aren’t learning their lessons.
The big issue though is the danger of gaining a reputation. It’s getting to the point where referees must surely be talking between themselves about ‘having to remember the cards when Cardiff are involved’. We don’t want to have that tag as an ill-disciplined side, or worse, a dirty side. It’s a difficult one to shake, especially when referees seem as keen as ever to hand out cards.
Obviously it’s understandable in a sport as physical as rugby that sometimes a line will be crossed, or a referee may make a mistake, or even a breaking of the game laws may be necessary. As such an occasional card can be put up with. However, to overstep the mark as much as Cardiff have this season is fairly unacceptable.
It shows a lack of discipline amongst the group of players generally, a disregard for the paying fans who support the team week in, week out, and a general issue with not appreciating the conduct required while wearing the Cardiff Rugby jersey.
Going forward it’s time to stamp down on the ill-discipline which is costing us points and damaging reputation. Referee performances are out of our hands, but there’s aspects of individual performance that players should be well in control of. It’s also an issue for the player recruitment side of the management, to ensure suitable players are brought into the club going forward.
Getting the tactics and group cohesion right is one thing, but establishing an ethos is harder. The history of the club is there for all to see, it can be built off and moulded to suit this current crop of players, but individual players need to buy into it and we need to be signing those who will do so. Without that there will not be a return to successful times at Cardiff Arms Park.