Analysis: The cutting edge

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On a quite remarkable Saturday afternoon, Cardiff Blues saw what Wales did to England in the second half in the Principality Stadium and thought ‘we can top that lads’, before promptly overturning a 17-0 deficit to beat Edinburgh at Murrayfield.

It was the first defeat inflicted upon Richard Cockerill’s side on their own patch this season, and for ourselves it kept an unbeaten streak in the Scottish capital going that stretches back to 2014.

More importantly though it sent Cardiff Blues catapulting into third place in the Guinness Pro14’s Conference A, putting us in the driving seat to secure that final play-off spot and crucial automatic Heineken Champions Cup qualification.

So how did we turn it around so drastically in the second half? Well the key was the bench and the unfortunate withdrawal of Dan Fish.

During the first 40 minutes, without the injured Harri Millard and the unwell Matthew Morgan, there was a distinct lack of searing pace in the backline, which we had used so successfully to slice through Glasgow Warriors at the Arms Park the week before.

This played into an Edinburgh drift defence’s hands as their defenders simply held their shape and marshalled us towards the touchline.

At the same time Cardiff Blues played into their hands, killing a lot of our own space with the miss pass, putting extra focus on the already lateral aspect of the attack

In the end we end up kicking possession away from a promising looking first phase attack in midfield.

That lateral movement in our own attacking shape was all the more evident from attacking phase play as we tried to skim along the defensive line hoping for any gap to develop thanks to a spot blitzer.

Unfortunately Edinburgh were happy to watch us carry in front of them, ushering the attack towards the 16th defender, the touchline, without doing a huge amount of work.

A three, potentially four, man overlap missed out on by the direction of our attack and the inability to hold a drifting a defender.

Of course it wasn’t just those in possession who were causing the Cardiff Blues attack to look blunt, as the work off the ball let us down on occasion as well.

From more first phase ball in even better field position the dummy line from Willis Halaholo is not exactly convincing and ends up following the Edinburgh drift, while Rey Lee-Lo and Dan Fish are too lateral to begin with outside Jarrod Evans.

In the end by the time Lee-Lo does straighten his line, the lateral inefficiency of the setup means Edinburgh’s drift is still really tight and they are able to hit the Cardiff Blues player as he receives possession and force the turnover.

However, the straightening of that line was encouraging at least, and by the time the second half came around it became the main attacking threat.

Rey Lee-Lo gets the ball in his hands a little earlier this time, and with Aled Summerhill and Owen Lane holding their lines outside him, suddenly cracks start to show in the Edinburgh defence.

The drift has to continue because of the danger on the outside, offering an exposed inside shoulder to the Samoan centre, and in the form he is in currently he does not need a second invitation to take that on and make serious ground.

Of course there is the aforementioned withdrawal of Dan Fish to note, and the shifting of Aled Summerhill to full-back as a result added an extra dimension to our game, with the fit and firing youngster injecting that pace lacking with the absence of Millard and Morgan.

It also meant that Jason Harries stopped onto the wing off the bench, and like Summerhill his pace and direct running caused problems.

Aled Summerhill stepping up from full-back and attacking the line is the main catalyst behind this attack, with the inside Edinburgh defender unable to deal with the pace and power of the Cardiff Blues flyer, while the outside defender has to hold his position due to the threat of Jason Harries.

It is also important to note the decoy line of Rey Lee-Lo here as well though, just holding the inside defender for a second that allows Summerhill to get outside him.

That direct work off the ball is a huge part of creating space in our attacking game, and was key in the second Cardiff Blues try of the game, as Edinburgh are unable to get their drift defence going.

Nick Williams barreling towards the opposition on a decoy line means they have to ‘sit down’ (hold their position), to avoid the number eight taking possession and bowling straight over the defender.

This results in the outside defender in the second picture being left isolated with Rey Lee-Lo coming short on a direct line, Jason Harries flying around the outside and Aled Summerhill holding his line out wide.

Jarrod Evans picks a great option in Lee-Lo and Harries continues to track well to be on the centre’s shoulder and go over for the score.

Overall there is still a nagging concern about the inability of the Cardiff Blues to put in an 80-minute performance, or at least spend the majority of the game as the dominant side.

However, there is no question that when we do get going we are verging on unplayable at times, and as long as we have spells of destructiveness during a game we will get points on the board.

There are plenty of in-form backs at this moment in the Cardiff Blues squad, the trick is making the right selections, over to you Johnny Mulvers!

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