John Mulvihill’s coaching staff face their first serious challenge

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It’s only just three months into their time as Cardiff Blues coaches, but John Mulvihill and his staff are facing the pressure after a disappointing defeat to Glasgow Warriors on Scotland last Friday.

The result in isolation is not something that would raise any great questions, defeats in that manner will raise their head every now and again for even the top level sides in club rugby.

However, the manner of that defeat comes on the back of three straight losses that start the season, including the Zebre away game which saw the biggest comeback in the league’s history, as well as the back-to-back losses to Glasgow and Cheetahs at the end of last month.

Each occasion thus far has been followed by impressive wins at the Arms Park, over Munster and Zebre respectively. This time there is no home game on the horizon for Cardiff Blues though, and the challenges are tougher than an under-performing Munster and a Zebre including a number of semi-professional players.

We travel to Ulster this weekend, before heading into a European double header with big spending Gallagher Premiership champions Saracens, and then the small matter of three festive Welsh derbies follow on.

Niko Matawalu Glasgow
Last Friday’s defeat at Glasgow was a tough one to take

Adding to the worry is a trend that has struck since the beginning of October, which has seen Cardiff Blues behind in games by double figures at the 20-minutes mark in five of the last six games, the exception being the big win over Zebre at CAP.

Speaking as the clock turned to 20 minutes on Friday night with the scoreboard showing 14-3, defence coach Richard Hodges spoke to Premier Sports and said, “it’s been pretty typical of us the last six-to-eight weeks, get behind on the scoreboard and then wake up.”

Factor in John Mulvihill’s post match interview of ‘learning from mistakes’ and ‘being better next week’, and this is where a large source of supporter frustration stems from as the quotes become too matter-of-fact. Almost stereotypical.

Now nobody is calling for departures at this stage, we might be reactionary and hot-headed as Cardiff Blues supporters but we are not short-sighted. Sacking the head coach at this stage would do far more harm than good.

However, we will be keeping a keen eye as John Mulvihill and his coaching staff look to overcome this first major test of their tenures at the Arms Park, with nobody escaping criticism at this point.

Jason Strange’s attack is recently struggling to fire shots in attack, despite possessing some of the best back line talent in the league. Twice now against Glasgow, and on the road against Cheetahs, we have failed to stamp our authority on the game with ball-in-hand, at least until it is already lost.

Josh Turnbull Cheetahs
Our only try in South Africa came from a charge down

The defence under Richard Hodges lacks discipline and intensity in it’s line speed and ability to organise after a period of unstructured play. Missed tackles have been aplenty, but they often come down to the system, rather than anything else.

Tom Smith’s forwards have not regularly stamped their authority on the game in attack to secure possession or won enough collisions in defence to compliment work done over the ball, while Duane Goodfield’s set piece is faltering at important moments in matches.

What connects all these issues? An inexperienced coach at this level, and this is worth remembering. All four of those coaches are in their first seasons as a senior coach at a professional club side and they are led by a head coach who has not been in charge at a European professional side before.

They have time to learn lessons, but improvements will need to be seen quickly. We will need to be less passive against Ulster, competitive against Saracens and then gain points in the Welsh derbies.

Last Friday was a huge disappointment, but the season is not gone. How we react from here will define this coaching group. I still have faith, but it is being chipped away.

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