Cardiff Blues suffered a heavy 36-14 defeat at the hands of the Ospreys on Saturday as the Rainbow Cup got underway in Wales at the Liberty Stadium.
There was no expectation of a favourable result given the respective teams named, with Dai Young instead choosing to have a look at some fringe members of the senior squad as well as a number of younger prospects, alongside trying a few players in different positions.
While he will be pleased to have learned plenty about individuals in his squad, he will still be disappointed with some aspects of our play. I’ve had a look at some key stats from Swansea…
Youngsters step up
While the main aspect to watch from a Cardiff perspective may well have been the performance of some of those senior fringe players potentially fighting to win new contracts as Young takes over permanently, it was the youngsters who seized their opportunities to the greatest effect on Saturday.
From Gwilym Bradley’s 15 tackles and three turnovers, to Ben Thomas’ 45 touches of the ball including a try assist and two line break assists, from the start, to Ellis Bevan scoring a try off the bench on debut, there is plenty to be excited about for the future and even the present as certainly the finishing half-back partnership of Bevan and Thomas outshone the starters.
After a year in which their development was badly impacted by a lack of Welsh Premiership and Celtic Cup it was great to see then looking sharp and confident in a competitive Welsh derby.
Possession and penalties
In terms of the way Cardiff played on Saturday there wasn’t too much on a technical level to take away from the 80 minutes. Defensively we largely recovered from the disappointment that was the defeat to London Irish, with only the Sam Cross try mid-way through the second half looking soft from an organisation point of view, while when we kept the ball in hand we moved it well.
Unfortunately there were two big areas that let us down at the Liberty Stadium; kicking and discipline. We kicked a lot, 39 times to be precise, which to me is not what this team is about. There were some nice touches; Ben Thomas and Jason Tovey both putting Hallam Amos into space with kick passes, but overall we kicked possession away on too many occasions and made too many errors with kicks on the full or missing touch when it was required.
This then led to more ball-in-play time and more defending on the back foot which, coupled with a touch of impatience at the defensive breakdown, saw Cardiff conceded 15 penalties in total. When the opposition have a driving maul like the Ospreys do, up against our somewhat flimsy maul defence, then there’s only one outcome and it was a hat-trick of tries for the home set piece.
Ball carrying boys
Comfortably the most left-field aspect of the team selection from Dai Young was James Ratti lining up at number eight, having spent his entire career to-date playing in the second row barring four outings in the blindside flanker role earlier this season and one playing in the same position for Ospreys Premiership Select XV in the British & Irish Cup.
However he put in a polished performance wearing eight considering his lack of experience, taking on the role of primary ball carrier to good effect. From 16 carries he crossed the gain line nine times, making a total of 57 metres but only beating two defenders, with a lot of the metres coming after initial contact had been made with the defender.
With Max Llewellyn also having an impressive game making a whopping 97 metres from 10 carries, including seven defenders beaten, three line breaks and a try, as well as Alun Lawrence battling for 27 metres from six carries on the blindside before being substituted, we had more than enough gain line success to play some good rugby.
Hopefully Young has seen what he needs to do to make the most of that after Saturday’s performance.