There has been a lot to celebrate for Cardiff Blues over the last few weeks, in a season that has transformed from three straight defeats, to runs of four wins in five games, and two straight victories to finish the most recent block of league and European fixtures.=, before two further victories to kick off this current block.
In that time we have managed to cling on to an automatic qualification spot for next season, courtesy of sitting fourth in conference A of the Pro14, as well as claiming top spot in the Challenge Cup pool of death to set up a second quarter-final in as many years.
There have been some standout performers, from Matthew Rees and George Earle up front, to Josh Navidi, Ellis Jenkins and Nick Williams in the back row, while the likes of Tomos Williams, Garyn Smith and Owen Lane have ratified themselves as stars of the future.
One man has been singled out for some terrific performances though, in a key position at the heart of any team. Jarrod Evans has grown in front of our eyes as the orchestrator of our attack, a vast improvement from the obviously talented but raw young player who first appeared in the senior team just over two years ago.
Over the last two European games he made the 10 shirt his own, playing a brand of exciting, ball-in-hand rugby that suits the team, the Arms Park surface, and the history of Cardiff rugby down to the ground.
In fact, in terms of kicks from hand, he has made no long punts down the field at all in those two games, only putting boot to ball to chip over the top of the defensive line, or grubber through for a team-mate. It’s heads-up, attacking rugby at it’s best.
The impressive aspect to Evans’ game is the variety of attacking options he can conjure up at first receiver, and how they open up space for those outside him.
Perhaps the aspect of Jarrod’s play that Cardiff Blues fans most enjoy is his confidence in taking the ball as flat as possible, and still taking possession towards the line.
By doing that he is able to use the dummy runner’s line to the full extent, and hold the attention of the outside defender. The result of this is that, as in the first and third clips, it creates a three-on-two overlap in the wide channels.
Even if that isn’t achieved, as in the second clip, it gives dangerous runners like Blaine Scully the opportunity to run at the defensive line from a bit of space, and manufacture front foot ball at the very least.
There is more to his passing game than just a screen move though.
By staying flat to the line and drawing defenders it can open up holes for the forwards running carrying lines, and Evans is quickly developing an ability to put them into those gaps.
With a disguised short pass to Josh Navidi, and a fired long pass to Damian Welch, there is a result of front foot ball on both occasions. The opportunity arises as Evans draws the attention of the inside defender, leading to the carrier not being lined up by an opposition player.
In the third clip it is most obvious as Richie Gray comes flowing out of the Toulouse line, and if Ellis Jenkins were just to angle his run ever so slightly then there’s a big gap to exploit with Evans pushing him through it.
It’s not all about flat play and making things happen close to the defensive line though, as Evans has developed an awareness of when to get the ball wide early. No doubt this is assisted by the formulating partnership with full-back Gareth Anscombe.
Specifically from the plays in and around our 22, to move the ball wide early exploits some space on the far flank where the winger has dropped back to cover any kick. Each time good metres can be made, although Anscombe gets unlucky with one kick through and Owen Lane just fails to gather the other.
Additionally to his passing game, his tactical kicking is starting to come on. The second kick is the peak of a trend in rugby right now, the ‘kick pass’ trying to shift the ball to a winger in space early. It puts pressure on the opposition defender and Lane is inches away from running clear.
The second kick is particularly pleasing in terms of Evans’ development, as he takes the a poor pass from Lloyd Williams and quickly turns it into a clever chip over the top for the centres to chase, rather than concede back foot ball.
Finally, the most impressive part of Jarrod’s game to come out in recent weeks, has been his carrying.
Backing himself at the line makes him a dangerous fly-half, with defenders caught between him passing and turning on the afterburners. He’s not the 6ft+ ‘natural athlete’, for want of a better phrase, that the likes of Beauden Barrett, Owen Farrell or Rhys Patchell are, but he’s got a dangerous step and a good turn of pace.
He also has a game awareness, to spot a coming up on the outside, as in the second clip, or identify prop forwards on the inside shoulder, as in the second clip. Then the awareness transfers into an ability to turn a line break into a try scoring opportunity.
As in that previous clip, Evans spots big, slow forwards on the inside shoulder and attacks the gap. Breaking through the line he then appears to have all the time in the world to look up and spot his scrum-half on a supporting line.
Particularly in the first clip, where the secondary defence is straight in his face after breaking the line, it’s a testament to his maturity as a player that he can take the time and have the awareness to find Tomos Williams.
That game out in Lyon only went to cement what many of us already knew, that Jarrod Evans is the real deal.
At just 21 he is already pushing 150 Cardiff Blues points, and is creeping up on 50 appearances. There’s still a long way to go in his development as a player, but if he can reach his undoubted potential, then there is no reason Jarrod Evans cannot be another name on the long list of Cardiff 10s wearing the famous red jersey.