Before the weekend many Cardiff Blues supporters probably won’t have known the name of our forwards coach as he largely flew under the radar.
However, Tom Smith might be a name on a few more people’s lips in the coming weeks, after on his watch the lineout suffered so heavily away at Southern Kings and came in for some stinging criticism online.
Particularly when all Cardiff Blues had to do was win a late lineout to secure victory and that was lost in almost comical fashion, it seemed like the poor quality of this specific set piece would actually cost us the game.
In the end though we got away from South Africa with all five points in the back pocket, and this is where Tom Smith should actually come in for some praise as the driving maul, which also comes under his responsibility for coaching, provided three of the five tries scored.
This week’s analysis takes a look at an up-and-down afternoon for Smith, as he prepares to praise and rectify areas of the game in equal measure.
We start with the positives for Smith and the forwards from the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, and specifically the best driving maul try of the afternoon from this pre-called move.
It was clearly noted by the analysts that the Southern Kings opt not to jump when defending lineouts close to their line, and as a result some space was identified at the back of their lineout defence.
The long through to the back engages the jumping pod at the rear of the lineout, with Nick Williams, Olly Robinson and Brad Thyer from the Cardiff Blues front pod moving around in unison and pushing the maul to the openside of the field.
This prevents any Kings defenders in their front jumping pod from getting around to defend the openside, leaving just one player between us and the try line. That player opts to take Josh Turnbull off the front of the drive but the setup is more than strong enough behind to push their way over.
While this score came from a well-analysed and well-executed pre-called move, the others were down to the organisation and strength of the maul itself.
Liam Belcher’s try is a superb example of how the strength of a maul setup can result in a try or a turnover.
Seb Davies forms a pillar at the front of the maul initially, and when he is removed as Cardiff Blues spin the drive around the corner, he takes at least three Kings defenders with him, opening up space to move into.
On the face of it the maul appears slightly messy at this point, but Josh Turnbull has taken over as the pillar at the front of the maul and holds three team-mates in shape with him, so that when Willis Halaholo joins the drive and adds some momentum, pushing over the line is a straight forward task.
Typical backs coming in to take the credit after the hard work of the forwards!
Kristian Dacey’s try has a more classic driving maul feel to it, with a similar setup to that of Belcher’s as Seb Davies and Josh Turnbull once again form the pillars at the front of the drive.
They do some excellent work in seeing the maul move around the corner, again removing a number of Kings defenders from the picture, and allowing the Cardiff Blues players organised around them to drive towards the line with relative ease.
A strong start to the season for the driving maul, which hasn’t always been a source of joy for us over the years, but could well be a weapon if it continues in this vein of form.
The lineout on the other hand…
Now I’ll start with some positivity about the lineout, and that is when we won our own ball we looked like a more than competent set piece outfit.
Looking at an example of both an attacking and defensive lineout above, there is a sharp fake to the front, before throwing comfortably to the back, while opening up the lineout and not allowing the opposition to properly match up before throwing quickly to the middle is a good tactic close to our own line.
The issues come when we start to lose confidence in our own throw though, we seemingly have no effective call to fall back on to just secure possession and build from there.
What we’re looking at in the first two clips is simply a lineout that doesn’t look confident in its ability to win the ball.
We approach the lineout fairly slowly, giving the Kings time to match up to our jumping pods and then challenge us in the air when we opt not to show any variation pre-throw. The throw and speed of jump are good, but how easy it is to read for the opposition is what lets the set piece down.
Then you end up at the third clip, where Kris Dacey is aware that Kings will be able to match up and read the call, so as a result heavily adjusts his throw and ends up missing Seb Davies by a good two feet.
That lack of confidence also shows even when we do call some variation into the lineout, as we continue to be easy to read for the Kings.
Little sharpness in the movements allows the opposition to simply track the carrying pod from the back to the front of the lineout and get up to disrupt the throw, even though the throw itself and the jump speed are once again relatively good.
It’s particularly frustrating that the lineout can vary so greatly in the same game, and that just one overthrow can cause the set piece to fall apart so dramatically for the rest of the encounter.
Had the Kings begun to challenge our throw in their own 22 the outcome may have been very different, but fortunately they continued to let us secure ball freely and as a result we got away with the win after some very good driving maul work.
Following one of, if not the, longest pre-season that has been known in the professional era, it is particularly disappointing that the lineout should not only fail to improve from last season but seemingly take a step backwards.
Now running repairs must be made during the season which is far from ideal. Immediate fixes will not come overnight, so we may have a few games of lineout despair to come yet, but hopefully by the time Christmas rolls around we will at least be functioning to a respectable level.