Analysis: The Scots of Cockerill

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This weekend will be a new challenge for Cardiff Blues, as we go up against a side in Edinburgh who are carrying their own run of very good form into the fixture.

Of course we have already played this season, but you have to cast your minds right back to round one of the Guinness Pro14, when the Scots came away from the Arms Park with a 10-20 victory.

Since then there has been a vast amount of change at both clubs though. Cardiff Blues were massively under-prepared to start the season, after a shortened pre-season campaign, and ran out of steam inside the hour mark on that Friday night.

A high intensity defensive system was draining on the legs, and still being introduced to the team, resulting in individual positioning errors to allow a clinical Edinburgh to take advantage for their two tries.

Blair Kinghorn Edinburgh
Blair Kinghorn scores against Cardiff Blues in September

An attacking shape that was lateral and suffering from a lack of tempo as the forwards lost the battle up front, did not allow us to compete on the front foot often enough and the result was comfortably the worst league performance of the season. A bad day at the office all round.

Since then it has been all change at the Cardiff Blues though, but it has been a similar story for Edinburgh who had Richard Cockerill in charge for just his first competitive game that day.

Saturday’s hosts would go on to win just one of their next four games, before scraping past Zebre at the start of October, as they really struggled to find their feet under the new man in charge. However, just like in Cardiff, the new calendar year would spark a movement, and they are now on a five game winning run.

The effort

If there’s one thing we know about Richard Cockerill, it’s that he demands 100% from his players for every single one of the 80 minutes. An angry looking man at the best of times, you don’t want to cross him after a bad performance.

As a result, a lot of Edinburgh’s tries over the last few weeks have come from the sheer effort of the players.

Edinburgh prev effort 1

Edinburgh prev effort 2

Fully committed supporting runs that result in tries on both occasions, and that works when chasing as well as supporting.

Edinburgh prev effort 6

Edinburgh prev effort 7

Without the ball then, even though Edinburgh don’t operate a blitz as part of their defensive system, they have scored three tries from charge downs in the last five games, including the quickest try the Pro14 has ever seen in it’s different guises.

Edinburgh prev effort 3

Edinburgh prev effort 4

Edinburgh prev effort 5

That effort on the field also reveals itself in the statistics of Edinburgh’s winning run. Over the last five games the Scots have trailed in every single one, and have won four of the games in the last 15 minutes.

Although they haven’t particularly thrashed any of the sides, coming away with four points is all that matters once the final whistle goes, and Edinburgh have built up a confidence in themselves that they can pull wins out of the bag from any position. That makes them a very difficult team to play against.

The power

The other side to a Richard Cockerill team will always be their strength, particularly in the forwards, which translates into the set piece.

Edinburgh were well stocked in this department already, with big name forwards Ross Ford, WP Nel, Grant Gilchrist and John Hardie, to name a few, but Cockerill has certainly taken them forward a step in their use of this area of the game.

Edinburgh prev power 7

Edinburgh prev power 9

When you think of a power based game at the set piece, the driving maul is often the main weapon. Going up to Ebbw Vale to face Dragons, who’s maul is one of very few positive points about their game, they scored two pushover tries, based around the ability of a strong second row.

That weight up front is also put to good use in an effective pick-and-drive game.

Edinburgh prev power 1

Edinburgh prev power 2

Edinburgh prev power 3

Even when not scoring from the pick-and-drive game, it still pulls in defenders, and Edinburgh went and scored out wide after that final clip.

The power is not isolated in the forwards though, with Chris Dean being a major weapon in the Scottish sides back play from inside centre.

Edinburgh prev power 4

Edinburgh prev power 6

Edinburgh prev power 8

A powerful and pacey runner, he caused problems for every one of the five losing opponents at one time or another, and no doubt will try to target Jarrod Evans if the young fly-half occupies the 10 jersey on Saturday.

The weaknesses

Like every team though, including ourselves, there are chinks in the defensive armour that we can get after. They both centre around the negative side of Edinburghs power game, a subsequent lack of mobility, particularly amongst the forwards.

While the strength and determination of the defence is sometimes let down by how quickly it can get into position, or cover the whole field.

Edinburgh prev weakness 4

Edinburgh prev weakness 5

On these two occasions the ball is moved quickly by the opposition, and Edinburgh love all sense of shape in their fringe defence, leaving two enormous gaps for the ball carrier to break through.

Then, when they do get their fringe defence sorted, they are often of getting too narrow and neglecting the flanks as a result.

Edinburgh prev weakness 1

Edinburgh prev weakness 1 2

Edinburgh prev weakness 3

Edinburgh prev weakness 3 2

Edinburgh prev weakness 2

Edinburgh prev weakness 2 2

The positive for Cardiff Blues in all this, is that I can see us scoring these tries. With the attacking threats we possess along the back line we have the ability to target gaps inside that initial area of the defensive line, and also the pace out wide to take advantage of a metre of pace on the flanks.

However, Edinburgh’s strengths up front and at the set piece are often areas that we struggle in when not playing well.

Saturday will be a really interesting battle between two in-form sides with largely contrasting styles of play. Edinburgh, a power based side who don’t know when they’re beaten, against Cardiff Blues, a fast-paced running side with an uncanny ability to see games out in the latter stages.

It is a game not to be missed.


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