The first block of 2020/21 Guinness Pro14 fixtures came to an end for Cardiff Blues in disappointing fashion on Monday night, with a 10-19 loss at home to Glasgow Warriors.
It means John Mulvihill complete the eight games, one of only three teams to do so, with three wins and five losses, sitting fourth in Conference B on 14 points and with an uphill struggle to qualify for the play-offs.
Here’s some of the key stats from the last two months for Cardiff Blues…
The Blue Wall
In a turn of events that even the most optimistic of Cardiff Blues supporters would have struggled to predict, we finish the first eight games of the season with the best defence in the Pro14, according to the league’s website.
No team has got a better tackle success rate (92%) or won more turnovers (56) than us so far this campaign, conceding just two tries per game and 18 points per game, keeping us in fixtures against the likes of Ulster and Edinburgh despite being on the back foot for much of the 80 minutes.
In his two previous years as solo defence coach, Richard Hodges had presided over gradual improvements in the defensive unit, but this leap forward deserves huge credit. The coaching is spot on, and the upping of physicality and intensity in defence is a testament to the work done by Robin Sowden-Taylor’s strength and conditioning team, as well as the attitude of the players.
All of the tackles
The defensive strength is built off the number of tackles we have made as a team. 1424 altogether, an average of 178 per game. That is impressive, but also a reason why we only have three wins. More on that downside later though, for now we concentrate on the individual efforts of Cardiff Blues players.
Eight of the top 20 tacklers in the Pro14 are men in John Mulvihill’s squad, with Kris Dacey and Josh Turnbull leading the way on a stunning 98. Coming in with 88 despite largely playing out of position is James Ratti, while Corey Domachowski is also in the top 10 with 76. Rory Thornton (75), Dmitri Arhip (72), James Botham (63) and Olly Robinson (61) are also included.
With Robinson (9) and Turnbull (7) top and third of the league’s turnover stats as well, the Cardiff Blues forward pack has either tackled or turned over everything that has moved during the last two months.
Can we play now?
While all that defensive work has been done excellently though, there has been many times where Cardiff Blues have felt like the kid on the playground who just does not get passed the ball. Desperately trying to get involved in the game but overlooked by the bigger boys.
Over the eight games we have averaged 45% possession, down to 40% without the Connacht game in round two, and just 35% territory, giving us very little opportunity to play on the front foot and impose our will on any games beyond that Connacht win and the victory over Benetton.
Despite beating the third most defenders (117) and making the fourth most line breaks (48), we have only scored the sixth most tries (14) and the seventh most points (116), thanks to most our attacking coming from our own half. Added to that is the lack of forward platform, with just two Cardiff Blues forwards in the league’s top 100 carriers, Kris Dacey and Josh Turnbull, both with 16 successful carries.
Bringing the X Factor
While the attack as a whole has faltered though, individually the numbers put up by Cardiff Blues’ backs have been incredible, what you’d expect from a backs department stacked with as much talent as we possess.
Nobody has beaten more defenders than Jarrod Evans’ 20 in the Pro14, while Hallam Amos (13), Matthew Morgan (11), and Rey Lee-Lo (9) are towards the top of that list. Aled Summerhill is the man representing in the clean breaks list, sitting third with seven, with Evans, Amos and Owen Lane all have five to their names.
If the backs were just able to play in opposition territory for more than a fifth of the game then the attacking opportunities would be plentiful for Cardiff Blues. Easier said than done though!