11 months after the 2019/20 season kicked off, it finally came to a close over the August Bank Holiday weekend with Cardiff Blues beating the Ospreys at Rodney Parade.
Once again John Mulvihill’s men missed out on the Guinness Pro14 play-offs, and with our contribution in the European Challenge Cup coming to an end before the coronavirus pandemic hit, it meant no knockout rugby for a side that finished with a losing record for a second campaign in a row.
Before focus starts to fully switch to the start of the 2020/21 season, set to be the first weekend of October, I’ve had a look at Cardiff Blues’ individual and team starts for the year just gone.
It wasn’t the most memorable year for Cardiff Blues going forward, as the first season under Richie Rees saw us finish as the ninth best side going forward in the Pro14. Only Zebre, Southern Kings and Ospreys scored fewer points and tries, and Zebre and Ospreys had a postponed game that was settled as a 0-0 draw.
An average of two tries per game resulted in just three try bonus points from our 15 games in the league, and a negative points difference for the first time since the 2014/15 season.
Individually Josh Adams snatched the top try scorer award across all competitions with the try he scored against the Ospreys during the last game of the season being his seventh and edging him ahead of Owen Lane (6) with Aled Summerhill (5) a bit further back.
The standout player statistically was Matthew Morgan, with 11 line breaks, 33 defenders beaten and 462 metres gained, as well as two tries scored, in just nine Pro14 games during 2019/20.
Perhaps the most noticeable individual stat for Cardiff Blues in attack though was in the Pro14’s successful carries list with only three players in the top 100. Will Boyde was the highest with 33 leaving him tied in 35th spot.
While the attack was disappointing in it’s first year under Rees, the Cardiff Blues defence was simply average in what was Richard Hodges’ third season as the defence coach at the Arms Park, finishing up with the 8th best defence in the Pro14.
A mid-table tackle success rate of 87% summed up a defence that could go from the ridiculous to the sublime during the course of a half, let-alone a game or a season, often finding itself behind at the 20-minute mark in the first few weeks of the campaign before battling back for a respectable scoreline. 327 points conceded in 15 league games averages just under 22 points against per outing.
Individually it was Josh Turnbull who reclaimed his title of tackle machine from Olly Robinson this season, making 174 tackles to finish 5th in the Pro14 tackle table, while Shane Lewis-Hughes impressed with his consistency making 103 of 108 attempted tackles in the league.
It was the turnovers that once again caught the eye, and saved the day, for Cardiff Blues defensively though, with 114 seeing us lead the league once again in that respect. Olly Robinson (16) and Will Boyde (12) made the second and third most, respectively, while Josh Turnbull and Liam Belcher were tied in 6th with nine.
Jarrod Evans was the man who won the top points scorer award across all competitions for Cardiff Blues last season, scoring 115 points taking his total tally to 398 as he sits 6th in the post-2003 top points scorers list. Jason Tovey was second with 78 points to his name.
Interestingly no team kicked more penalties than us in the Pro14 last season, with 29 being successful off the tee, while no team missed more penalty kicks than us as we couldn’t kick 14 penalties, leaving 42 points on the field.
A tale of two set pieces here as the lineout suffered one of the worst campaigns in memory for a Cardiff Blues team, while the scrum enjoyed a superb renaissance making the Arms Park a place to be feared for front row forwards once again.
Starting with the throw-in and in Tom Smith’s second season as forwards coach the lineout regressed generally, although some stats appear quite impressive on the surface. An 89% lineout success rate was the second best in the league, for example.
However the sheer number of lineouts that Cardiff Blues had during the season, with teams identifying a weakness and kicking to touch often, is an explanation for that. 27 lost lineouts is almost two per game, with a particularly poor showing away at Connacht in February.
The scrum, on the other hand, was excellent as Duane Goodfield, also in his second year, coached us to the best scrummaging side in the Pro14 last season.
84 scrums won on our own ball with just two being lost in an incredible stat, as we won 20 scrum penalties, a world away from the struggles we have had at times since the likes of Gethin Jenkins, Matthew Rees and Fa’ao Filise dominated the front row.