Cardiff RFC’s fine season had some silverware added to it during the last weekend of April when Steve Law’s men defeated Merthyr at the Principality Stadium to win the WRU National Cup for the first time since 1997.
Just after a competitive title race between the two teams in the Principality Premiership had effectively come to an end after Cardiff had lost two games in a row, the task at hand seemed even tougher, with the Ironmen having dominated Welsh domestic rugby for the past two years.
However, tries from Tom Daley, Edd Howley and Ben Thomas saw the Blue and Blacks lifting the trophy, with the scoreboard showing 25-19.
It wasn’t the attack that won the game though, it was a defensive effort that restricted a Merthyr side who have scored almost 30 points per game and secured try bonus points in 25 of 30 Premiership games to just 19 points.
Incredibly Cardiff RFC went through the entire game without successfully competing one jackal turnover, and watching the game again it was clear that wasn’t a failure, but the implementation of a game plan.
The Blue and Blacks rarely even attempted to get over the ball, favouring instead trusting their defensive processes in repelling Merthyr’s physical ball carrying threat and maintaining an organised line to stop their strike running backs making breaks.
What they did very well is utilise the double tackle, one chopping low and the other wrapping high, in an attempt to bring down the ball carrier early and also prevent an offload which has been a staple of the Ironmen’s attacking tactics.
As well as that we prevented Merthyr moving into any space on the outside, where they can set the quality that the likes of Kyle Evans, Teri Gee, Tom James and Jay Baker free, all excellent players at this level and could at least do a job at professional level.
By not competing on the floor Cardiff were able to form up quickly and the organisation created the Blue and Black wall, with the second part of the game plan being to come up quickly in a dogleg.
This meant that the Ironmen either looked up and saw the line speed on the outside, forcing them back inside and keeping them narrow, or if they did try to move the ball wide then they were tackled well behind the gain line.
When the two aspects of the defensive plan were put together, it left Merthyr scratching their heads in attack, unable to use their main offensive weapons and working hard for little reward against a Cardiff so well drilled they didn’t look like they were struggling at all.
That relentless work in defence is what was substituted for attempting the jackal, and it paid dividends as there was still no shortage of turnovers won by Cardiff.
In the end Merthyr were left without any answers to the questions posed by the Cardiff defence, particularly for the majority of the second half where we saw the Ironmen with the majority of possession but simply unable to press into the opposition 22.
The Blue and Blacks produced an organised and well thought out performance, that crucially was underlined with a commitment that has seen us have what is undoubtedly the best season the team has had for a decade.
Huge credit has to go to Gethin Jenkins for his work on the defensive side of the game, bringing a professional quality to the semi-professional league, as well as Steve Law for the squad he has assembled and culture he has allowed to develop.
If Cardiff can carry this defence into next season, and add one or two players for that additional squad depth, then the sky is the limit.