Amidst the chaos of the off-field dealings at the Cardiff Arms Park, there are broad smiles shining through from the rugby department, as Cardiff Blues are currently on a five-game unbeaten run halfway through a massively important fixture block.
Wins over Toulouse and Lyon before the Anglo-Welsh Cup completed ‘le double-double’, and saw the side to the top of our European Challenge Cup pool, before home victories against Munster and Cheetahs, and an away win over Zebre, made sure of fourth place in the Pro14’s Conference A, and even started to threaten the play-offs.
However, underneath the smile there is an issue. It’s a medical one, and it’s not always obvious to the naked eye, but a number of tests have confirmed it’s presence. I don’t quite know how to break this to you, but Cardiff Blues are suffering from a severe case of bonus point-itis.
The league tables tell no lies, and the evidence is stark. Cardiff Blues are joint bottom of the Pro14 try bonus point table, with only the Conference’s bottom side Zebre for company, with a pitiful two TBPs from 15 games. Just a further one has come from six Challenge Cup pool matches.
We haven’t scored four tries against a side placed above us in the table since Judgement Day last season, with our two try bonus points this season coming at home against whipping boys Zebre and Dragons.
What we have done though, is score three tries on five occasions so far this season, but failed to turn them into a bonus point.
Now, taking the Ospreys game aside where the third try was scored in the last five minutes as part of a brave losing comeback, that is four opportunities in the Pro14 to secure an extra league point, and make a good day a great one.
Those four extra league points would have, as things stand, move to just six points behind Cheetahs in third and eight points clear of Connacht in fifth. With a game in hand and Cheetahs still to play it would have put us in a real position to challenge for the play-offs, while consolidating the final Champions Cup qualification spot.
Perhaps the most frustrating part of missing out on those bonus points has been the fact that all of them were easily achievable.
Against Connacht back in November we managed to score out third try with 20 minutes to go, which was matched against Dragons away on Boxing Day, while we had almost half-an-hour to secure a bonus point against Cheetahs last month.
The biggest opportunity missed was in the Munster game though, as three tries in 10 minutes meant we were bonus point hunting from the 27th minute of the match.
This isn’t an isolated case of bonus point-it is for Cardiff Blues either. We haven’t managed to secure more than five bonus point wins in a campaign since the 2007/08 season. Since Danny Wilson took over we’ve scored 11 try bonus points in the league, Leinster on the other hand scored 12 just last year.
Now, that isn’t to say we should be challenging with Leinster at the moment, but our recent run of results are certainly good enough to be pushing around the Pro14 play-off spots. If we have ambition of making those post-season games then we will need to start picking up the bonus points. Otherwise the mid-table misery will continue.
How do we convert three tries to four and make progress up the table? The answer seems to lie within a shift of psychological mindset amongst the Cardiff Blues players.
Winning games is undoubtedly key, and some of our results recently have unquestionably been excellent. The wins over Munster and Cheetahs, teams higher than us in the table, and Zebre, an increasingly tricky away game, are not points that would have been turned down if on offer before the recent block of fixtures.
However, it seems to be that the aim is winning and nothing else. In all four wins mentioned above where we failed to covert three to four tries, we would only go on to secure the victory via seven points or less.
If we are to return to the higher echelons of the league, and the top competition of European rugby, the mindset has to switch from one of just winning, to one of destroying. Four tries, particularly at home, should be the target.
For my money, it all stems from confidence issues. It’s been a good few seasons of underachieving for the Cardiff Blues, which we are only just breaking out of thanks to the developing of a backbone to see out games.
The next step on the road to recovery is to re-discover a self belief and start to push on for bonus point wins. It won’t happen overnight, but until it does, we can’t truly push for top spots in the league and Europe.