Cardiff RFC slipped back in the Principality Premiership title race on Friday night as they fell to a disappointing 28-19 defeat to Pontypridd at Sardis Road.
Up against a Ponty side that never has any issues getting up for a game against the city slickers, especially on their own patch, it was never going to be easy for the Blue and Blacks.
Factor in some tough refereeing decisions, the penalty try awarded just before the break and subsequent sin binning of Ben Thomas was harsh in the extreme, while a lack of yellow card for the replacement Pontypridd tighthead prop with 10 minutes to go after a high tackle and not retreating 10 metres was surprising, and it was a tough evening.
More than that though, the lack of attacking shots fired to match a defence that was very good on the night was a real disappointment, and a departure from a season which has seen Cardiff score almost 30 points a game on average in the Premiership.
With Will Rees-Hole, a natural inside centre, and Ben Thomas, an inside centre equally comfortable at fly-half, combining in midfield there was an issue of sorts that saw us without quite enough pace to try and get outside a Pontypridd defence that looked a touch narrow at times.
However, for my money the utilisation of the forwards took away chances for the backs to even play into space, and that is where this will focus.
On a few occasions there was a simple problem that the support for the ball carrier was too far away when he went down in contact, causing problems for Cardiff on the floor.
Either the ruck time was lengthened, allowing Pontypridd to get set for the next phase as in the second clip, or there was a chance for the opposition to get over the ball as in the first clip, with Rhys Shellard a particular pest in that aspect. We’ll gloss over the legality of the turnover in this instance though!
This simple problem is a symptom of the wider issue with the forwards on the night though, with the 1-3-3-1 formation not functioning well enough throughout the game.
There were times when there was even a complete failure to form up in the 1-3-3-1 formation, as on both occasions a central carrying pod find themselves in no man’s land behind a breakdown.
Fortunately on one occasion Dan Fish gets away with the attacking mis-match with a clever chip-and-chase, but Will Rees-Hole is forced to turn back inside and into traffic without the pod asking questions of the Pontypridd defence off either the scrum-half or first receiver.
Then when that first pod of three is in place it wasn’t always effective as part of the attacking strategy in terms of asking that initial defence of the opposition the question of whether they’re going to stay narrow and take on the carrying threat, or drift wide and cut down the space on the outside.
With only one of the pod showing as the obvious carrier the Pontypridd defence can get set for the ball carrier, getting two men into the tackle area before the second and third members of the pod arrive in support even though there isn’t the gap there was in other examples.
In the first clip it’s that pest again, Shellard, while the second clip sees possession ripped away.
The final issue was when more of the formation needed to come together after the initial carrying pod had done it’s job.
In this instance the pod all come off the scrum-half as viable carriers, with Gareth Thompson tracking on the screen pass, leaving the Pontypridd defence unable to setup for the ball carrier.
As a result James Down gets front foot ball with the second and third members of the pod in close enough proximity to take out the one opposition player at the breakdown and secure quick ball.
Unfortunately the second pod of carriers is a man down, and too deep off Gareth Thompson to trouble the two Pontypridd defenders in midfield who have their eyes on the fly-half and their shoulders already turned.
In similar fashion later in the game, the first pod do well here as they offer as carriers before pulling the ball back to Dan Fish slotting in at fly-half and keeping Pontypridd narrow.
Unfortunately the second carrying pod are out of sync, with the first player in an excellent position flat to Fish, but the second and third members too deep to cause the defence any problems.
With those options not on Fish ends up running into trouble and a really encouraging attacking setup is wasted when points were really required to stay in the game.
Of course this isn’t the easiest attacking look to nail down when only training twice a week, but some cohesion in the forwards could have really caused Pontypridd trouble at times on Friday night, and given Cardiff the chance to fire some serious shots.
Adding to this is likely to be the amount of Cardiff Blues forwards brought into the starting XV, with Brad Thyer, Kirby Myhill and Macauley Cook particularly having not spent much time in and around the Cardiff RFC squad this season.
There was plenty of talk surrounding this on Friday night, but when push comes to shove there is little doubt in my mind that it was a contributing factor to the disappointing level of the Blue and Blacks performance.
The only thing to do now for Steve Law and his men is to re-group this week and prepare for the WRU National Cup Final on Sunday. With less parachuted players featuring due to competition rules there is a hope we will see the Cardiff of a few weeks ago…