Analysis: Fly (half) Fish-ing

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Cardiff RFC kept up their stunning run of form to extend the unbeaten streak to 13 games, and continue to have won every game in 2019, with a 39-30 win over Bridgend at the Arms Park on Friday night.

It perhaps wasn’t the best performance produced by the Blue and Blacks in that period, but the try bonus point win was secured with the five points crucial in keeping up the pressure on Principality Premiership leaders Merthyr, and for taking momentum into this weekend’s WRU National Cup Semi-Final.

Steve Law’s men also gained the victory despite resting key men like Joey Tomlinson, Gareth Thompson and Llywarch ap Myrddin, as well as not having Cardiff Blues academy’s Jim Botham available and Ben Thomas only being on the bench.

That unavailability or resting of Thompson allowed the beginning of an experiment that we may well see a lot more of at the Arms Park over the next few years as Dan Fish stepped in to cover at fly-half.

Dan Fish footwork analysis 4Dan Fish footwork analysis 3Dan Fish footwork analysis 1

Despite having played at fly-half in his junior and youth days, Fish has spent his senior professional career as a full-back who can cover on the wing, his electric pace being his key weapon.

However, the serious hamstring injury picked up against Connacht in November 2016, which kept him out for around two years, has naturally robbed him of some of that explosive sprint speed which set him apart at the top level.

As a result there is a move in place to try and re-convert him, if you like, from a full-back to a fly-half, and while that pace is not so stand-out at 15 anymore, the footwork and speed can still be a danger from 10.

Looking at how he gets into space and beats defenders in a position where he can get into mis-matches against front row forwards, the first two clips see him engineer at least a half-break for other players, before in the final clip he is able to draw two defenders and create space on the outside for Joe Gatt to score.

Dan Fish screen analysis 1Dan Fish screen analysis 2

Having always been a full-back keen to act as a backup option at first receiver, there are early encouraging signs that Dan Fish has the ability to step up as the full-time fly-half.

He is particularly comfortable on the screen pass, taking possession behind a forward dummy runner and drawing a spot blitzing defender to create a gap in the defensive line. He has the quality and vision to pick the runner coming from deep.

With Cardiff RFC possessing the likes of Will Rees-Hole in the centre, as well as Morgan Allen and Sam Pailor in the back row, it’s a tactic that often pays dividends.

Dan Fish kick analysis 1Dan Fish kick analysis 2

That quality and vision is also evident when it comes to Fish’s kicking game, and how he uses it as a game management tool as well as an attacking weapon.

With 106 Cardiff Blues appearances under his belt he has the experience to control a game from fly-half at this level, and has always had a good rugby brain, as evidenced by the coaching he does at Cardiff & Vale College and Glamorgan Wanderers.

Add in that cultured left boot and the kicking game is not something that should be a stumbling block on his conversion to a fly-half, but there is an area to work on, and that is his play as a true first receiver.

Dan Fish pass analysis 3Dan Fish pass analysis 3 1


Dan Fish pass analysis 1Dan Fish pass analysis 1 1

When he gets it right, Dan Fish is able to lay on a superb platform for those outside him to at the very least get over the gain line, or as in the second clip, make a solid half-break to move up the field with speed.

In both clips the key is how flat he is to the defensive line, and the subsequent decisions that h forces defenders to make, with the knowledge that he has the footwork and pace to do damage himself, and the distribution skills to pick out the right carrier outside him.

On each occasion he draws a single defender out of the line, which in the first clip is enough for Max Llewellyn to make yards, exploiting the space on the spot blitzing defender’s inside shoulder and making a half break as well as drawing a penalty for a high tackle.

The second clip is slightly more complex as Fish picks out the slightly wider line of Will Rees-Hole, but even though the pass is longer the opportunity is still there as the circled defender has to keep an eye on the fly-half due to how flat he is, meaning he can’t get set or even pick up the line of the centre.

Dan Fish bad analysis 3Dan Fish bad analysis 3 1

Unfortunately this was not the case every time, as on a number of occasions Fish was caught standing too deep at first receiver, not putting the defence under any pressure and in reality giving them quite the arm chair ride.

The defender with the arrow over his head is the equivalent to the circled defender on the previous examples, and with Fish much deeper everything is happening in front of Bridgend, who can track Callum Bradbury all the way to the point where he comes of the fly-half’s shoulder and right into their arms.

Dan Fish bad analysis 1

Similarly when Dan Fish opts to carry himself from that slightly deeper first receiver position, the defence has enough time to face up for him and turn him over.

Similarly when he’s standing back from the line and looks to move the ball wider, the defence is in a position to drift easily, and the players outside Fish have to stand deeper as a result of his position, leaving them with nowhere to go with ball-in-hand.

Dan Fish bad analysis 4Dan Fish bad analysis 4 1

All in all it was a solid night for Dan Fish at fly-half for Cardiff RFC, as he sets out on his conversion journey from a full-back to a fly-half.

Of course this was at semi-professional Principality Premiership level, and he’s got a long way to go before being considered good enough to play at 10 for Cardiff Blues, but the way the playing structure is set up over the next few months certainly is in his favour.

There may well be opportunities for Fish to get some more game time for the Blue and Blacks at 10 over the next few weeks, before hopefully getting a full Celtic Cup campaign as the starting 10 during August and September when the World Cup is on and the start of the Guinness Pro14 is pushed back.

If this goes well then the hope has to be that Fish is in position to cover the Cardiff Blues fly-half position by the time the 2019/20 campaign does get properly underway, with Gareth Anscombe at least going to be missing for the World Cup, and maybe even having moved on to pastures new by then.

The fly-half position at the Arms Park is a bit up in the air at the moment, but it will certainly be interesting to track his progress at 10 over the next few months.

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