Friday night’s Cardiff Blues game was, for 30 minutes, shaping up to be a highly competitive encounter between the unbeaten league leaders and a mid-table side in decent form with nothing to lose.
That confidence and freedom Cardiff played with early in the game spawned a well worked Macauley Cook try as well as two kick-able penalties taken by Jarrod Evans. I doubt many people were expecting the visitors to lead 0-10.
The match was flipped on it’s head though by Nigel Owens, with the harsh sending off of Fa’ao Filise, and effectively that was the contest over as Glasgow took advantage of tired legs and additional space.
There were positives though, and not only in the commitment and passion shown by the players for the jersey despite being shorthanded and under the cosh for the majority of the second half.
I thought the best aspect of our play was how we stopped Glasgow, the side who have scored the most points of any in the league, from attacking with the speed, width and penetration that has come to define their attacking game.
Just six points conceded in 30 minutes with 15 players, and only 22 while a man down, and for 10 minutes two men down. Our defence has come a long way under Shaun Edwards from last season’s new record for points conceded.
There has been the classic Edwards blitz which as revolutionised out defence;
A simple yet effective system based on the speed and desire of the players in the defensive line, but one that the cleverer teams will get around. Glasgow fall into that class, with inside passes and the ability to drop deep from the gain line but still work a line break.
To overcome an offensive force like Glasgow it takes more than good line speed, and not content with just bringing Cardiff’s defence back up to an acceptable level, Edwards has become to instil an ability to read and identify the opposition systems.
The result was the most intelligent defensive display I’ve seen from a Cardiff Blues side in some time.
Throughout our time with 15 men we ran a dogleg blitz from the outside-in, keeping Glasgow narrow and away from where they can do most damage, the wide channels.
As in the first clip, this then turns the ball carrier back inside to the midfield defence where we are at our strongest and able to drop the carrier behind the gain line, or target the breakdown to slow ball down or turn it over, as Nick Williams does on that occasion.
That strength in our defensive line just outside the ruck guard was also utilised well by Cardiff in the form of the two-man tackle.
The two-man tackle was hugely successful, the real cornerstone of our defence on Friday night, even if the red card was a mistimed attempt by Macauley Cook and Fa’ao Filise.
As in clips two and four, the two-man tackle offered turnover opportunities in the form of both the jackal, with the tackle assist able to spring back to his feet quicker as the first man completes the tackle, and also as the tacklers got under the ball and held it up long enough for a maul to be formed.
However the main benefit was the slowing down of Glasgow’s attack, which was the real key in staying in the game as long as we did while a man down.
Clips one and three show not only a ball carrier brought down on or before the gain line, but also a slow ball presentation from the carrier to the scrum-half, and plenty of time for Cardiff players to re-form their defensive line, and defensive leaders to call players into gaps.
A prime example of that is here as the ball carrier is held up on a short run by the two-man tackle.
While that happens Kirby Myhill and Jarrod Evans on the left of the picture call Willis Halaholo over to fill a gap in the defensive line, and the very next phase it is Halaholo and Evans dog leg blitzing to narrow Glasgow and ultimately make the tackle behind the gain line.
That disruptive influence the Cardiff Blues defence had on the Glasgow attack was extended to spot blitzing, as the away side mixed up their defensive systems to keep the league leaders guessing and cause confusion in their backs.
Putting pressure on the first receiver the spot blitzer either turns them inside, back into that fringe defence, send a risky miss-pass wide or go to the boot.
Of course there was a fourth option, but has Willis Halaholo proved, this wasn’t advisable.
It’s a real shame that the red card ruined what threatened to be an excellent game between the two sides, and ended what would have been a fascinating ongoing battle between the Cardiff Blues defence and Glasgow Warriors attack.
However, the glimpse we got on Friday of the intelligence the Cardiff Blues defensive line now has can hopefully stand us in good stead going into a double header against a Sale Sharks side with the second most try bonus points in the Aviva Premiership. Come on Cardiff!!