Analysis: The stuff of dreams

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Last Friday saw Cardiff Blues complete a stunning double over Scarlets thanks to a 41-17 win at the Arms Park, throwing up a 75-22 aggregate scoreline from both games this season.

However, whereas the win at Parc y Scarlets over Christmas was based around a stunning defensive performance, the home victory came courtesy of a stunning period of clinical attacking from the Cardiff Blues in the first half.

In a first half that we won 38-0 thanks to a stunning five tries, we dominated with 64% possession and a superb 75% territory, making the majority of our 12 line breaks and beating 23 defenders.

It is true to say that Scarlets were dreadful defensively, making just 55 tackles at 71% with 14 of the missed tackles coming from their starting backs, however the work of Cardiff Blues put them in positions where errors were made.

Early in the game the mixing up of the attack from Cardiff Blues asked all sorts of questions of the Scarlets defence that they consistently failed to provide convincing answers too.

Trying to get dangerous players in dangerous positions, Tomos Williams and Jarrod Evans guided the attack around the field to test the edge defence both on the open and short side.

Each clip has a common denominator despite the varying method of line break though, and that is a Scarlets defender flying out of the line and leaving space on the outside.

With Jarrod Evans adding a mixed kicking game to the proceedings that pushed and pulled the Scarlets back three around the field, their defence was left struggling to adapt to the pace of the game.

Tomos Williams would continue to do this at the half wore on, putting the ball into the corner brilliantly with a left-footed kick, while a high box kick was spilled by Kieran Hardy, but it was what the half-backs did with ball in hand that dominated proceedings.

For Owen Lane’s first try the initial break from Shane Lewis-Hughes stems from a really poor missed tackle from the Scarlets guard defender, but in what will become a theme throughout, it’s a one-on-one tackle as they leave the initial defensive line under-staffed with an eye on the midfield.

Then it’s over to the half-backs and the danger they present as a combination with ball-in-hand, as Jarrod Evans slides across to the blindside, Tomos Williams turning to check where he is as he approaches the breakdown.

Owen Lane does well to track Jarrod across and it’s a simple mis-match in the corner with the winger and Kris Dacey up against Wyn Jones out wide. A similar looking attack also brought about Josh Turnbull’s try later in the half.

This time there’s no big carry on the phase before, but Jarrod Evans does superbly to identify another potential mis-match on the right hand side of the breakdown, again linking up with half-back partner Tomos Williams to switch the play.

Ioan Nicholas is the only back up against Evans and the tracking Willis Halaholo and Owen Lane, with the winger carrying into contact and getting his hands free to produce an excellent offload for Josh Turnbull to score in the corner.

With Scarlets being push and pulled by a varied attacking game, both with ball-in-hand and via the boot, spaces soon begin appearing in their already fragile defensive line.

The earlier carry from Willis Halaholo keeps Rhys Patchell and James Davies tight, subsequently removing them from the picture as Halaholo is revealed as a dummy runner.

Outside them Johnny McNicholl holds a really wide position, concerned about the threat on the flanks, leaving Paul Asquith and Kieron Fonotia stranded in no-man’s land, a massive area between them.

It’s back to one-on-one tackling which Jarrod Evans dances through quickly and with the quality we possess in our backline just one line break is enough to get the ball moving towards the try line at speed.

Aled Summerhill’s second try comes from a similar issue with the Scarlets defence, as they show a touch too much width, but this time the try is far more route one for Cardiff Blues.

The work of Nick Williams and Tomos Williams at the back of the scrum means the scrum-half can move wider from the breakdown, taking away James Davies from the openside, but still leaving Paul Asquith sitting on his heels in midfield.

This time the option is inside the centre, with Willis Halaholo taking the ball on a crash ball line and we’re back to one-on-one tackling as he breaks Rhys Patchell’s tackle far too easily and finds Aled Summerhill on his shoulder.

This first half attacking blitz won the game for John Mulvihill’s men on that Friday evening at the Arms Park, possibly the best 40 minutes of rugby we’ve seen from the Cardiff Blues all season.

Yes, the Scarlets were particularly poor defensively, perhaps a worry for many with their defence coach Byron Hayward in line to replace Shaun Edwards in the Wales setup after the World Cup, but to focus on that diminishes the work down by Jason Strange.

I have given our attack/backs coach some criticism, not unfairly in my opinion, during the November-January set of fixtures. However, since then he has turned us around, and we are starting to fire on all cylinders.

If we can pull Munster and Connacht apart like we did the Scarlets last time out then the race for the all-important third place is in our hands. Hopefully this 40 minutes gives us the confidence to do that.

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