If you were looking at Saturday’s defeat to Munster on paper, then a 39-16 scoreline certainly does not make happy reading. When you consider the second half was 26-0 to the home side, it sounds like a rout.
However, as weird as this sounds, there was certainly more positives than negatives to take from a trip to Thomond Park. It felt like the cogs moved closer to falling into line for a complete performance against the Dragons on Friday night.
Having said all that, it’s important to look at why we shipped such a large amount of points in the second half and try to learn the lessons so that it doesn’t happen again.
The sin bin calls
Last season our discipline was particularly poor, especially during the first half of the season. So much so it caused me to write about how it might create us a reputation.
This season it has been all-change so far though, with no yellow cards shown to us at all in the first four rounds, despite a high number of penalties conceded in some guys. Keeping 15-men on the pitch at all times greatly improves the chances of competing for 80 minutes.
Unfortunately, just after half-time that run was ended when Munster put Cardiff Blues under some serious pressure on our five metre line.
Fa’ao Filise buckles under the weight of Dave Kilcoyne too many times for referee Quinton Immleman’s liking and soon he is spending 10 minutes in the sin bin, leaving us down to 14 at a critical time in the game.
So, you’re down to 14 at Thomond Park, leading by three points, but under a lot of pressure from a Munster team gaining momentum, what do you do?
The answer is definitely don’t kick the ball back to the opposition, that’s for sure.
I know it’s easy for me to sit here and make clips of kicks just missing touch, however, I have a theory that it seems Cardiff Blues haven’t quite adhered to this season. It’s much better to ensure the ball gets safely into touch without kicking it huge distances, than go for the monster clearance and miss touch.
You can see by the scattered nature of the kick chase that the players are expecting that kick to sail into the stands, and what this allows is for Munster to run the ball back to around where the lineout would have been anyway, but with possession secured and ready to set up quick ball.
This wasn’t an isolated incident either, nor was one player at fault.
Now the last of those four clips is a particularly interesting one as it not only was a good example of some sloppy kicking from open play, but it also highlighted a linked recurring problem of a poor kick chase exacerbating a poor kick.
This first reared it’s head in the home tie against Glasgow, and is still lingering as an issue two weeks later.
On this occasion Glasgow worked the big gaps between chasing players with some clever handling, but against Munster it was even easier for the opposition to slice through the Cardiff Blues defenders.
At least against Glasgow the players come up as one slightly ropey looking line. In this example from Saturday the chase is in two distinct parts, leaving a big gap for Sweetnam to try and take advantage of.
Even though the Cardiff players do converge to stop him, with the defenders all drawn towards the ball it leaves a line to be run by Alex Wootton, and before you know it he’s screaming towards our try line.
Call for Shaun
Now that we’ve established kicking the ball straight back to Munster from open play is not the greatest idea, we can move on to assessing how losing defensive shape is also not the wisest move when down to 14-men at Thomond Park.
So far this season our defence has been far and away the best part of our game, culminating in making a whopping 233 tackles in Galway last weekend. Any team in the world would be happy with a 95% tackle success rate, and Cardiff Blues achieved that.
The reason for this has been a mix of intensity and speed in the defensive blitz, as well as an attitude instilled in the players by Shaun Edwards, as vouched for by Nick Williams in this week’s press conference.
However, when we don’t blitz in a committed line it causes problems for us.
What happened a few times is that we got caught harking back to the defensive misery of last season where we found ourselves lacking numbers on the openside and operating a drift defence that could be picked off at will.
There’s a reason why last season we conceded the most tries we have in the professional era and Graham Steadman paid the price of losing his job. Drifting leaves us always trying to make up big gaps on the outside shoulder, and all it needs is one player to step inside to create a hole for the opposition to run into.
Aside from drifting we were also guilty of half-arsed blitzing, which left equally easy gaps for Munster to take advantage of.
The first clip in particular looks bad in terms of what will go down as missed tackles, but they stem from the shape of the defensive line which give nobody a clear shot at putting a hit in on Rory Scannell.
A blitz which lacks bite can easily be picked off by Munster, and twice they did so to score tries.
There isn’t anything huge to worry about though, with the defensive structure and kick chasing something I expect will be worked on hard in training this week, especially on Shaun Edwards Tuesdays!
Overall there were a lot of positives to take from our defensive breakdown work, which will be rewarded under a competent referee, and more so from our attacking play which is very slowly looking like returning to the level that we left it last season.
Head over to @CardiffRugbyWeb for those clips, they’re well worth a watch to get a bit of optimism flowing ahead of Friday’s first Welsh derby against the Dragons at CAP. Come on Cardiff!!