With Saturday’s Challenge Cup quarter-final against Gloucester fast approaching there is a glaring issue to rectify ahead of next week, as the game against Leinster showed, the set piece requires massive improvement.
Although the stats don’t read too badly, with five out of five scrums won on our own put in, and 11 of 15 of own lineouts secured, the stand out statistic is conceding five penalties on Leinster’s scrum. Coupled with the poor standard of ball secured at Cardiff set pieces, and the lack of dominance is evident.
Any team will be straight on the back foot without some sort of competitiveness at the set piece, and when you are a team that looks dangerous on decent first phase ball, it has a big knock on impact on attacking play, as well as putting yourself under the cosh from conceding repeated penalties.
So what exactly needs to improve? Well I’ve done my best to have a look….
Four lineouts lost off our own throw aren’t brilliant stats, but 11 successful throws is example enough that times are not catastrophic for our lineout. However, it’s the decisions behind the lost lineouts that frustrated me on Saturday.
This was the first lineout won of the afternoon, straight to Jarrad Hoeata at the front of the lineout, easy as you like. The maul is then easy to setup, or the ball can come off the jumper, and possession is retained to attack off first phase ball.
However, we then go straight to throwing towards the middle of the lineout, and with the throw falling short it is batted down by Leinster, costing Cardiff an excellent attacking position. With Nick Williams not a lineout jumper he can be ignored at the front, meaning the home side are able to compete with much greater accuracy knowing the ball is heading towards the back.
With that lost lineout in mind, you’d think it would be back to basics from the next effort just a few minutes later…
Unfortunately the throw was straight to the back, with Macauley Cook looking directly in the sun, and thanks to a slight overthrow the ball doesn’t go to hand with Leinster recovering possession. This wasn’t the only poorly called and executed lineout either.
Matthew Rees’ first lineout throw of the afternoon was very good. A simple called move where Macauley Cook was the dummy jumper, before George Earle takes the throw at the front of the lineout.
However, his second throw is called to go to the back of the lineout and it’s massively overthrown to the Leinster hooker at the tail, costing another good attacking position as the game approached full-time. In such a crucial area, and with Rees not having been on the field long, there was too much risk to the call.
Taking the example of Team Wales against Ireland, it’s much better to work a simple lineout formula and secure possession, than go for the jugular and end up losing possession. In that Six Nations game Wales utilised Justin Tipuric as the front jumper on seven occasions, maybe not creating the fast ball off the back of the lineout, but ensuring possession stayed with them each time.
Against Gloucester retaining possession at lineouts will be crucial, with the feeling being they are going to kick in behind and look for territory. The Kingsholm surface is not necessarily suited to running rugby, but if we can keep up with the home side in the possession statistics we will give ourselves the very best chance to utilise our potent looking back line.
Winning lineouts is always important, but in terms of not welcoming unnecessary pressure upon ourselves and trying to improve our attack conversion rate which cost us the game in Leinster, it is crucial on Saturday. If we can get ball off the top or get our driving maul going, it’ll be a weapon like that which may swing the game in our favour.
This was the major source of frustration on Saturday as five penalties were conceded off Leinster put-ins, while Cardiff ball was scrappy as the scrum went backwards at a rate of knots on each occasion. It even got to the point that the referee warned Gethin Jenkins about his scrummaging and that he was risking a yellow card.
Now I’m not a scrum expert by any means, I’m far too skinny for that, but there’s a few points I’d like to pick out from the game in Dublin ahead of next week.
My first point is Macauley Cook’s scrummaging on the blindside. In both clips he’s pre-occupied with watching where the ball is at the back of the scrum and not supporting his prop, which becomes a big issue as penalties are conceded. Obviously he’s not to solely blame for the demise of the scrum, but when he stays packed down there is a difference to the solidarity.
There’s a noticeable stability here, until towards the end when Cook starts to pop up, but this clip also moves me onto my second point of Anton Peikrishvili. You can see that as the pressure is put on the tighthead he loses his body position quite quickly, and there’s a good reason for that.
Danny Wilson revealed afterwards that the Georgian was suffering with a back injury. It leads me to an apology as I gave him a bit of stick for his performance before he was replaced towards the end of the first half, but the injury explanation meant it wasn’t his fault.
Again here Peikrishvili loses his body shape, and it’s a stark lesson for Danny Wilson that a half-fit tighthead is not someone worth taking a risk on. That scrum weakness in the first half had knock on implications into the second half as Leinster’s confidence visibly grew.
You’ve got an all-Wales front row of Gethin Jenkins, Matthew Rees and Scott Andrews being shunted back, and with particularly Rees and to an extent Gethin being known as solid scrummagers, it’s an underlining of how Leinster trusted their ability to go forward while Cardiff were almost expecting to trundle backwards.
This also leads onto my third point though, as the pack that featured towards the end of the game did not seem used to scrummaging together…
As Gethin Jenkins slotted back into the pack after a good four months out there was a significant gap targeted between him and Matthew Rees, and that subsequently impacted upon the bind of the second rows.
With Leinster looking to wheel the scrum as well, it put all sorts of pressure on a buckling front row and stopped the Cardiff pack being able to regroup and mount any eight-man push back.
Only in the last scrum of the afternoon did the Cardiff forwards click and were able to counteract that Leinster step to the left…
Although there’s no overhead view, you can see that Cardiff’s pack are able to maintain their shape much better throughout the scrum….
Keeping the binds together they can effectively drive through Leinster’s attempts to wheel the scrum, taking the home front row out of the equation and winning the first Cardiff scrum penalty of the game, in the 81st minute.
The front row will be a big selection headache for Danny Wilson ahead of this weekend. I’ve put my cards on the table and picked Gethin Jenkins, Matthew Rees and Anton Peikrishvili, if fit, or Scott Andrews.
It’s harsh on Kris Dacey, but his open play abilities can be suitably utilised if he is brought on before the 60 minute mark, and may find they are more successful after Matthew Rees has battered Gloucester’s scrum. Corey Domachowski is also unlucky, but you can’t turn down the experience of Melon, and the youngster can also make an impact off the bench.
Whoever is picked though, let’s hope the hookers are getting plenty of throwing practice, and that scrum machine is receiving plenty of hits this week. Come on Cardiff!!