Cardiff RFC posted undoubtedly their worst performance of the season on Friday night as the Blue and Blacks fell to a 14-man Carmarthen Quins side at Carmarthen Park.
Particularly at the set piece and in the kicking game, Steve Law’s men were out-scrummaged, out-mauled and out-done by a powerful Carmarthen pack and some brilliant kicking out of hand that regularly pinned us back in our own half.
Perhaps the most frustrating element of the game though was that, despite playing against a defence a man-down, Cardiff only managed to create one try in around 65 minutes of having a numerical advantage and went an entire half without a score.
Now the conditions did have an impact in negating the fact that Carmarthen lost their fly-half, particularly when the inside centre was able to step in to the position so effectively, but the Blue and Blacks should still be disappointed that they didn’t even look like threatening the Quins defence during attacking phase play.
Focusing on two lengthy attacking sets in the first half it’s possible to see where Cardiff appear to be going wrong, with the use of the forwards not conducive to how we could be playing considering the quality we have at our disposal.
Guys like Morgan Allen, Alex Everett, James Thomas and Sam Pailor are not backwards in coming forwards when it comes to ball carrying, but there needs to be a clearer structure in the forwards that allows the carries to bust over the gain line and generate quick ball. Currently there is far too much one-up action to achieve this.
The rough idea seems to be that the gap between the potential carriers would result in the defenders having to make decisions, and it’s true that the Carmarthen hooker does shoot out of the line, but the lack of variety in terms of pop passes or miss-passes means we can’t take advantage of that.
As the carrier puts his head down he becomes in effect a one-up runner as the separation between him and his team-mates becomes clear, ending up with a situation whereby he makes it over the gainline but the ruck speed is so slow that the attack does not benefit at all. This happened on two further occasions later in the set.
The examples keep stacking up as other phases underline the issue beyond the tackle itself as Carmarthen are twice able to get over the ball before Cardiff support for the ball carrier arrives, once again denying us quick ball.
The relatively slow average ruck time that Cardiff carry through this attacking set means that when the ball does head to the backs there is no really viable platform to play off.
Carmarthen are able to form up with good numbers in the defensive line despite only having 14 men on the field, and on both occasions the Blue and Blacks run into a brick wall, with a line break looking almost impossible to fashion on both occasions.
A further issue here is that Cardiff seemed to struggle with playmaking in the backs. Neither centre is a distributor as such, while Joe Scrivens was sparingly used as a first or second receiver in open play, placing all the responsibility on Gareth Thompson at fly-half.
Unfortunately the lack of back play and the annoyingly zoomed in camera used by Scrum V does not allow me to properly show how the backs struggled to create anything on this occasion.
In the end possession is kicked away cheaply, but later in the first half there is another attacking set which offers more of a chance to look at how the Cardiff game could be developed in order to be more effective.
It starts again with a carrying pod working in an unaligned manner as the inside player is two yards ahead of the eventual ball carrier, and although by the time the one-up runner gets to ground the support is with him, the ruck speed is still not ideal.
What I’d like to see over the next few Cardiff RFC games is the forwards really tightening up the carrying game, rather than trying to overcomplicate it. Pull the carrying pod in tight to the scrum-half or fly-half, run into contact with a latch, still be able to bust over the gain line due to the strength of our carriers but then go on to secure quick ball.
Too often against Carmarthen we were caught playing loosely in midfield, making us easy to defend against as the Quins spread their defence to avoid being caught narrow and soaked up everything thrown at them, while Cardiff simply ate up our own space.
If we moved the carrying pod closer to the previous breakdown, whether coming off 9 or 10, the Carmarthen defence would have had to narrow as a result and then the Blue and Blacks could have looked to utilise the created space, putting the opposition outside centre under pressure to make decisions.
Narrowing the carrying pod also offers a better chance of mixing up the attack by introducing the miss-pass from the scrum-half, the pop pass from the first receiver or the pull-back pass to Gareth Thompson in order to get the ball to the backs fast and in more space.
Instead though, as Cardiff persisted with adding width to every phase, it just prevented the backs from fashioning any sort of line break chance, with Carmarthen able to match up in defence and drift effectively even when we did make it to the edge, before possession is kicked away cheaply once again.
On the whole the Blue and Blacks are not a bad attacking team, we have put opposition sides to the sword often enough in the first half of the season, but there is a sense after the Pontypridd game and now this showing against Carmarthen that perhaps we are being found out a bit.
There is also the correlation that both games are on the road, when tightening up the attacking game plan is a wise move, and with Merthyr and Aberavon still to go to this season, Cardiff had better get used to using the ball effectively away from home.
The squad is packed with talent, but it needs guiding in the right direction by the coaches, and by leadership players in key positions on the field.