Analysis: The axis of awesome

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If you’re in to your funny Australian musical acts, then you may recognise the title of this blog from a viral video about four chord songs. However, I am now officially re-claiming it for Cardiff Blues, and specifically the occupiers of the 10 and 15 jerseys.

For over the last three games, since the unfortunate shoulder injury suffered by Rhun Williams out in Zebre, the players selected either at fly-half or full-back have been central to a lot of the good play we have seen from Cardiff Blues with ball in hand.

Jarrod Evans, Gareth Anscombe, Steve Shingler and Matthew Morgan have all stepped into one shirt or another at one point, with each showing off our strength in depth at fly-half/full-back, and their own individual attributes that make each of them an asset to the squad.

However, it’s when they work together that we look most threatening, and the attacking system formulated by Matt Sherratt over the last few weeks have given the players the license to do just that.

Starting with set pieces, and the 10/15 axis split for scrums in the middle of the field, causing a real headache defensively for opposition teams.

10 15 axis 10 1

10 15 axis 10 2

10 15 axis 11 1

10 15 axis 11 2

With the option of two players comfortable at first receiver stood either side of the scrum, defences have a decision to make in terms of how to set up their own split of  players.

When Cardiff Blues threaten down the blindside through Tomos Williams and Gareth Anscombe in the first clip, it gets inside the heads of the defence that the split attack isn’t just for show, we have legitimate attacking threats on both sides of the scrum.

As a result, in the second clip Edinburgh put an extra man on the blindside, relying on the scrum-half and the openside to cover across to Jarrod Evans, and leaving space in the wider channel to get front foot ball at the very least.

Now, there has been plenty of appreciation of Willis Halaholo and Rey Lee-Lo’s centre partnership recently, and rightly so, but a lot of it has come from the space created by the 10/15 axis.

10 15 axis 14

10 15 axis 14 2

10 15 axis 17 1

10 15 axis 17 2

With Anscombe and Evans comfortable at first receiver it allows our inside centre, Wills Halaholo, to act as a proper inside centre and stay alongside Rey Lee-Lo, where as other teams sometimes choose to split their 10 and 12 at the set piece if the full-back is not a first receiver.

As the defence cover Anscombe on the blindside, the added space on the openside, along with a rapidly drifting defence, offers the opportunity to attack an inside shoulder or hold the defender and create space on the outside. Halaholo and Lee-Lo are able to do this to good effect.

It’s not just from set plays that the 10/15 axis are effective though, as it adds an extra dimension to our attacking in open play too.

10 15 axis 9 1

Edinburgh QF kick 2 2

10 15 axis 22 1

10 15 axis 22 2

In both the above examples the presence of Gareth Anscombe allows Jarrod Evans to slide to the blindside almost undetected, and results in a good gain of yards, and a clever kick in behind.

With the eyes of the defence firmly on Anscombe at first receiver, Evans as the fly-half can play the free role in the first clip, but it’s the second clip that’s interesting as, even though Anscombe carries into contact, there is no respite for the defence from a wide attacking play.

For a lot of teams, if you manage to tie their fly-half into the contact area, then the next phase may well be a one-up carrier to bide their time until the 10 is back at first receiver, but not for Cardiff Blues.

10 15 axis 6

10 15 axis 16 2

On both occasions it is Matthew Morgan who steps into first receiver, with Steve Shingler and Jarrod Evans out of the game from fly-half in the first and second clip, respectively.

Having other players at first receiver isn’t particularly revolutionary, but to have Morgan, who has spent plenty of time at fly-half earlier in his career, means he has the confidence to take the ball to the line and find a forward carrier with a flat pass, or a back with a screen pass.

Cardiff Blues then get good front foot ball to attack from with the regular fly-half back in position, but even then the 10 and 15 axis offers something different to our attacking game in two ways.

10 15 axis 18 1

10 15 axis 7 1

The first picture is a pass out of the back from Evans to Morgan, which puts him on the outside of the initial defence, attacking some space on the wing with two men outside him. As a player comfortable at fly-half, he has the decision making capabilities to set up a dangerous attack on the outside.

In a similar fashion, the early pass from Evans to Anscombe in the second picture allows him to be in possession outside the initial defence, however, on this occasion, he can take the ball flatter to the line, allowing the players outside him to come onto the ball faster.

10 15 axis 18 2

10 15 axis 12

10 15 axis 1

10 15 axis 7 2

All these attacks have positive outcomes to various degrees, but the most important aspect to an attack is scoring tries, and the use of the 10/15 axis as shown above has lead to at least two tries over the last few weeks.

10 15 axis 21 1

Ulster H Kris Dacey try

For Kristian Dacey’s try against Ulster it’s actually not both the 10 and 15 axis getting the ball in their hands that creates the try, but it is the threat of it.

Jarrod Evans comes flat to the line and Matthew Morgan slots in ready for the screen pass behind Dacey, with the two Ulster defenders turning their shoulders to face the touchline ready to try and cover the full-back attacking the outside channel.

However, Evans spots that and steps off his left foot to get his hands through a tackle and find Dacey to score the third try of the game.

10 15 axis 13 2

Edinburgh QF Scully try 3

Then the second try in the European quarter-final at Murrayfield sees Jarrod Evans find Gareth Anscombe coming into the line in the wider channels, and that 10-15 axis leads directly to the try.

With three inside defenders being taken out of the game by one pass, the Edinburgh winger flies up to cover the danger that a fly-half receiving the ball out wide can offer, especially with Rey Lee-Lo and Blaine Scully outside him, and Owen Lane busting a gut to get over from the blindside.

However, the decision making skills of a fly-half at full-back see Anscombe notice the winger coming up towards the defensive line and kick in behind him, forcing him to fumble the ball while he goes back to his own try line and Lee-Lo pounces before offloading for Scully.

The beauty of the current stocks of attacking players that Cardiff Blues have is that there are a number of ways we can set up in the backs that can be equally as successful as running the game through the 10/15 axis.

However, for right now, especially with an exciting young fly-half in Jarrod Evans, a natural runner in Matthew Morgan, a game controller in Steve Shingler, and a world class fly-half in Gareth Anscombe, it makes perfect sense to get two out of four of those players onto the pitch.

They are more than capable of making things happen themselves and, crucially, laying on a platform for others around them to show off their attacking flair.

Some of the tries we have scored in the last few weeks would have garnered much media attention had a side like Scarlets scored them, and if we keep producing attacking plays like we are, people will soon start to take notice.

For now though, I’m happy appreciating the under the radar rugby we’re playing, with the 10/15 axis being a key part of that.

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