Friday night saw Cardiff Blues slip to a third defeat of the season, but leap forward dramatically from the last performance at the Arms Park, that opening day loss to Edinburgh.
In terms of comparing the two performances, there is a huge difference in respect of the line speed and intensity in defence, and the willing of, particularly the pack, to get around the park, hitting breakdowns and gaining some dominance at set pieces.
If someone had offered me Friday night’s performance and result when I was leaving the Arms Park after the Edinburgh game I’d have snapped their arm off. It’s important to remember where we’re coming from, when assessing where we are now.
Now that we’ve edged back towards being competitive though, the analysis changes away from what we need to work on to improve, to what we need to work on to win.
Firstly, a look back to last week and this analysis piece which still bears relevance, particularly the stuff on one-up carriers from the forwards and how to create space for the backs to work with.
Panic! At the attacking opportunity
There is a need then though for the backs to step up, and that has been a big issue so far. 12 clean attacking breaks is not enough to be competitive from, and two tries in three games tells a story of an attacking unit firing blanks.
On a cold, wet night at the Arms Park it’s not a surprise that handling errors were prevalent, but the nature of some of them were disappointing.
Two passes, from Steve Shingler and Willis Halaholo, that weren’t of the highest quality, and some handling skills that Rey Lee-Lo will be very disappointed with, cost us three potentially dangerous attacking positions. The ability to be calm and accurate under pressure seems to have deserted us.
There is definitely a lacking in confidence in our attack, which is odd considering how strong it was last year and the talent we undoubted have in that department. However, the psychological part of the game is as important as the ability these days, so we need to overcome that.
We showed hints of how to do that on Saturday night, which is taking it back to basics.
Whether a clever line off the first receiver, mixing it up from the base of the ruck or executing a wrap around, which doesn’t quite go to the right option from Shingler but showed up gaps in the Glasgow defence, they’re simplistic approaches to attacking that just ask questions of the opposition.
The main positive of our attacking performance on Saturday came from two breaks, again with a basic feel to them, that hinged on dummy runners.
What you’ve got from the first example is Josh Turnbull and Seb Davies having run hard at the defensive line and still occupying the midfield defenders, allowing Willis Halaholo the space and gaps he thrives off, while example two gives Shingler a choice of either Halaholo, Lee-Lo or Tom James to pick out from his flat position.
The end result…
…a break that is quickly becoming a Halaholo classic, and a try that is already in the ‘Tom James classic’ category.
Simple, but effective. If the players put their trust in themselves we’ll be back flying again. The tries are coming!
Getting a right kicking
Perhaps our biggest issue on Saturday against Glasgow, which will need rectifying before a trip to Galway to take on Connacht, is the quality of our kicking from hand.
We kicked 30 times on the weekend, which is a higher number than you might expect for a home team, but the tactic itself wasn’t far off the mark. Kicking for field position against a stronger opposition, looking to turn them and put pressure on their set piece or returning runner.
However, that works if you do find touch, or chase the kick effectively. That didn’t happen for Cardiff on Saturday.
You’ve got examples of kicks from inside our 22 not finding touch, open field kicks being far too long to chase, and clearance kicks going straight to opposition players who can easily set up good field positions to attack from.
On top of that, with the kicking standard being generally poor, the kick chase that followed was largely lacklustre.
On this occasion you’ve got a clearance box kick that is too long to compete for, has not found touch and just gone straight down Ruaridh Jackson’s throat at full-back.
Alex Cuthbert leads the chase and can be seen at the top of the picture calling where the line should be, but Shingler and Halaholo are already ahead of him in the middle of the field, while Lee-Lo, Nick Williams and Josh Turnbull are struggling to make the mark.
The zig-zag effect of the chase opens up gaps to attack, and gives the opportunity for offloads as solitary defenders are isolated. Unfortunately, the poor kick and subsequent chase on this occasion directly leads to Glasgow’s first try.
Having said all that, there were moments when the kicking tactic paid off, and did the required job to put pressure on Glasgow’s set piece and recovery ability.
With the weather for Connacht away looking typically Galway-ish, when we do kick the quality will have to be spot on. As will the accuracy of ball in hand.
What the players need to do is trust themselves to keep playing, they are a good enough group with enough ability to work breaks and attacking opportunities, and take advantage of them.
The defence is already functioning much better, if the offensive side of the game can return to to close to the form it showed last year there is no reason why the improved performances can’t become wins. Come on Cardiff!!