Ah, Cardiff Rugby. You giveth two wins to make us dream of a top six finish, you taketh away with a disappointing home defeat to Munster to spell another season of bottom half obscurity. It’s the hope that kills you.
Is all lost? Well, no, in a word. There is a play-off system in place for Champions Cup qualification, as well as just four weeks until our Challenge Cup quarter-final away to Gloucester, but I can’t help but feel there is a need for change to start as soon as possible.
The manner of Saturday’s loss has certainly left a bitter taste in the mouth. The first half was a catalogue of poor decisions in attack costing the chance to utilise the wind advantage, while the second half was blighted by a persistence in using short filler phases to setup pointless box kicks which just invited pressure back onto us.
Eventually the sheer effort of never-ending defending took it’s toll and gaps appeared for Munster to carry out the inevitable, a smash and grab win. The commitment of the players cannot be called into question, as it was following the Connacht defeat, however the quality of the rugby they are playing can be.
A fair amount of the blame for that must fall to the playing management office, particularly the desk of Matt Sherratt (Attack/Backs Coach) and Paul John (Skills Coach). The team looked largely unimaginative going forward and the subsequent telegraphed nature of any offence was a huge issue, ultimately resulting in Munster’s second try.
It’s a long way from that early season run of form where, if you look at the Munster away and Glasgow home victories, Cardiff averaged around four metres per carry, totalled over 400 accumulative metres, and were well into double figures in line breaks, offloads and defenders beaten.
In comparison, Saturday’s match saw just 190 metres carried for, an average of a little over two metres per carry, as well as just four clean breaks, nine defenders beaten and seven offloads.
There’s no doubt that the injuries have taken their toll, with 12 changes to the matchday squad that beat Munster in Cork earlier in the season, but it’s not an excuse for that performance. The players that were picked are more than good enough to play the direct and pacey attacking game, but were not setup like that.
With Paul John moving on at the end of the season it’s becoming apparent that an addition to the coaching staff could well be the key summer signing at The Vale. Sherratt is still a young coach, and a fresh pair of eyes could well be welcome as the third year of the three year plan swings around.
Nicky Robinson has been spotted more on the non-playing side of things recently, but I cannot remember any ‘jobs for the boys’ appointments going well in any professional sport as I write this, and for a while they’ve plagued the Cardiff Rugby setup. The King may be different, one to keep an eye on.
Anyway, to more immediate changes, and I’d certainly be in favour of a few tweaks to the matchday squad for the rest of the Pro12 season, in terms of a few more younger players being given a chance.
You may say, ‘but what about the Champions Cup play-offs?’, well, there’s not a huge worry there. With both 7th and 8th in the Pro12 qualifying, and Cardiff currently occupying 8th place, we are in poll position.
Edinburgh are currently 9th, but 15 points adrift with five games to play meaning that they have to win a minimum of three games with bonus points or four regular games. Looking at their fixtures of Scarlets (A), Connacht (H), Treviso (A), Newport (H) and Glasgow (A), there’s nothing straight forward, with the exception of NGD, and if Cardiff beat the Kingdom of Gwent and Zebre in the last two games it’ll be secured anyway.
So, what’s now the harm in blooding a few players? Can they do any worse than some of the older members of the squad, tired regulars or drafted in ringers that are in place now? I’d say no, and we certainly have some young players with massive potential.
Corey Domachowski was superb on Saturday in his first Pro12 start, while Rhun Williams has been making an impression at wing and deserves a chance at full-back. Garyn Smith has always taken a chance when getting a run of starts in the first team, while half-backs Tomos Williams and Jarrod Evans have undoubted talent.
Ethan Lewis has missed a lot of the season through injury but is back fit now and appears to have the attributes of a decent hooker, and Seb Davies has impressed when called on for first team duties at either lock or blindside flanker this season.
Aled Summerhill has an excellent try scoring record in the first team, bagging another on Saturday, while in the Under 20 Six Nations we are seeing young props Rhys Carre and Kieron Assiratti taking opposition front rows to the cleaners.
Now I’m not saying all of the above should be starting, otherwise we’ll be ending up with Anglo-Welsh Cup scores, especially with two trips to Ireland and a Judgement Day game against Ospreys to come, but there’s certainly something to be said for getting them some senior professional action.
The thinking behind it being that a young player, straight out of the academy or fighting for their first pro contract, may well be hungrier to impress than an older player coming towards the end of their career, or a journeyman pro going from pay packet to pay packet.
They are also more liable to a bit of flair, having been brought up playing rugby the modern open, free-flowing way, and with no pressure on any of the next few games that carefree attitude may be the breath of fresh air that we so desperately need.
At the same time there is a hope that a few first team players may return to fitness over the next few weeks while the Pro12 takes some time off for the end of the Six Nations. Gethin Jenkins, Rhys Gill, Dillon Lewis, Ellis Jenkins, Rey Lee-Lo and Blaine Scully are all hopeful of being available for a trip to Gloucester.
Overall, things are not looking good at the moment, but keep the faith ladies and gentleman. The injury load is reducing, we will enter April with something still to play for, and hopefully the coaches can give us a reason to get excited again by showcasing the future talent. When are things ever easy as a Cardiff Rugby fan?