Analysis: The Welsh Exeter

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Yes, this may well be a a slight over-exaggeration!

However, after last week’s loss to Connacht I did notice one area in which Cardiff Blues were similar to Exeter and that was in terms of red zone success rate as Dai Young’s men camped on the opposition try line twice and scored twice.

It makes a big difference from earlier in the season where we struggled to convert pressure into points in the same way that the English and European champions do so impressively.

Going back to the home game against Ulster in the first block of Guinness Pro14 fixtures and Cardiff Blues again had two visits into the red zone but failed to come out of either with any points.

At that time our red zone attack was very loose, and borderline chaotic. From the point that Will Boyde goes to ground from the first carry off the back of the driving maul we are never in control of the attack, playing off nine a lot, not waiting for the forwards to get around the corner and into carrying pods, and not able to properly staff the breakdown.

It culminates in the image showing the disconnect between the three-man carrying pod before the final phase, and how far they are from Lewis Jones at scrum-half who decides to snipe himself. Subsequently the weak breakdown set up allows Ulster to counter ruck and the attack is over.

A major issue centred around that lack of control seemed to be a desire to get through phases incredibly quickly in the opposition red zone, utilising two-man pick-and-gos from the base of the ruck and recycling the ball quickly to stop the opposition defence from organising, except it’s very easy to organise red zone defence as all it requires is blocking up the fringes of the breakdown.

In the space of two seven-second GIFs, Cardiff Blues go through what is technically four phases as the first clip includes two quick pick-and-gos after the intial carry, but despite that speed of play at the end of it Ulster still have four man in a strong position at the fringe of the breakdown.

Crucially, they also have two men behind the breakdown so when we carry up with just a ball carrier and a single latch, the opposition spot the opportunity to counter ruck and cause problems with ball retention.

In the end those two-man carrying pods are the downfall of the attack as there’s a realisation that we aren’t going to break down the Ulster defence that way, and we try to move the ball away from the point of contact which ends up with a knock on.

Once again at no point do we look in control of a red zone attack, so fast forward four months to last weekend against Connacht and there’s a drastic improvement for Cardiff Blues as we look a more confident and methodical side in the red zone, dictating the tempo and understanding what we are trying to do.

Straight away it’s clear that Cardiff Blues are setting up differently, operating with three-man carrying pod and with a fourth man supporting quickly. This means that, as in the first clip, when Connacht try and challenge at the breakdown there is little chance of them stealing or disrupting the ball.

It also means that the carries themselves are much more effective. Looking at the second clip, Liam Belcher as the latch on Ellis Jenkins can now focus solely on helping him ride the first tackle and power towards the try line as he knows Josh Turnbull is there to add additional power and also secure the ball.

Despite that forward momentum though, Cardiff still don’t rush over the try line, slowing the attack down once again, eensuring we’re organised and then going when we’re ready. Staying in control.

The next phase doesn’t make any ground as Connacht’s defence is still organised, but the three-man carrying pod secure the ball comfortably and with the green jerseys stuck on the floor there are only three defenders around the fringes.

Cardiff switch back to the blindside and Rhys Carre is over after a red zone attack that is controlled, calculated and clinical. Everything we weren’t back in October against Ulster. It wasn’t a one-off either, as in the second half in Galway we repeated that red zone attack.

The dictation of the tempo is superb as Cardiff Blues inject pace twice into the attack, causing the Connacht defence to scramble, waiting for them to re-organise and then sucking them in again before Corey Domachowski powers over in a solo carry.

It’s brilliant to see the improvement in this area of the game from Cardiff, giving us a much better chance of being competitive in games as we can turn attacking pressure into points more regularly.

Now we just have to work out how to get into the red zone more regularly!

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