Cardiff Blues got the 2020/21 Guinness Pro14 Welsh festive derbies off to a good start on Boxing Day as we overcame Dragons thanks to a narrow 12-13 scoreline.
A try from Josh Turnbull and the boot of Jarrod Evans turned around what was a 12-3 deficit at one point in tricky weather conditions at Rodney Parade. I’ve had a look at the key stats from the 11th straight league win over our eastern rivals.
Too often this season Cardiff Blues have been left to look back on games during which we have worked hard and expended plenty of energy, but not come away with any reward thanks to large spells spent on our own line and finishing on the wrong side of the penalty count.
At this point in the season no other Pro14 has been penalised more than ourselves, but against Dragons we were only pinged 12 times, as opposed to the home side’s 17. With seven of those coming by the 25-minute mark, it was a remarkably disciplined last 55 minutes.
A large part of this came down to the fact that we were in possession for much of the second half, finishing up with 56% possession and 63% territory by the time the full-time whistle went. That allowed us to dominate the second half, pile on the pressure, score the crucial try and then control the final few minutes with just a one-point lead.
It was a successful return for James Botham to the Cardiff Blues squad having been rested since returning from making his international debut last month, capping a meteoric rise from bit-part young player before lockdown, to first choice openside by the start of this season.
The 22-year-old made 13 tackles, the most of any player from the away side, which equates to 13.5% of the team’s 96 tackles, on the way to winning the man-of-the-match award and the individual battle with fellow young Welsh prospect Taine Basham of the Dragons.
It means Botham is now tied-13th on the Pro14’s tackle lost for this season with 76 completed at a 97% success rate. All the more remarkable when you consider he’s only made five appearances, went off inside 30 minutes against Ulster and hadn’t gone the full 80 before Boxing Day.
The set piece wobbled early on against the Dragons, but once the Cardiff Blues pack got to grips with the opposition and the weather it became a valuable weapon, with Jarrod Evans regularly taking us to the corner where the forwards were able to secure possession and build pressure, and then see the game out once the try was scored.
At this point of the season we currently have the second best lineout in the Guinness Pro14, having won 122, more than anyone else, and stolen 11, with only Benetton having stolen more.
That stat of 11 is more than the last three completed seasons, and we still have up to six more games to play in the current campaign. It’s a huge advantage to prevent the opposition the chance to play off first phase ball or set up a driving maul. Long may it continue!