Cardiff Blues put together back-to-back Welsh derby wins over the Dragons and Scarlets to bring the first section of the Rainbow Cup to a close over the last two weeks.
It means that after seven rounds of Welsh derby action over the course of the 2020/21 campaign, it is the men from the capital who come out on top with five wins and 21 points, two clear of closest rivals the Ospreys (https://www.cardiffrfcfans.com/analysis/welsh_conference.php?seasonID=26).
I’ve had a look at some key stats from the two most recent games…
Getting on the front foot
Over the course of the regular Guinness Pro14 season there was a sense that the attack was not firing properly. Going away to the likes of Munster, Leinster, Connacht and Edinburgh during international windows we were too often overpowered when trying to create a platform to move forward from.
There has been a change over the last few weeks though, as where we were averaging 299 metres made per game during the league campaign, in the three Welsh derbies of the Rainbow Cup we have averaged 422 metres made.
That has largely come from a noticeable increase in the intensity with which we are attacking from the first whistle, which has resulted in scoring 29 points in the first half of the last two games, getting players around the corner quickly, preventing opposition defences getting set and nullifying jackal threats, as well as utilising Max Llewellyn (102m) and Owen Lane (115m) as supplementary ball carriers.
Josh Turnbull is the best player in the world currently
There, I said it. Want to disagree? Well you’re wrong. Turnbull is operating consistently at a level that is right up there with the best of those playing international rugby week-in, week-out.
In the two games, one of which he shouldn’t have even been playing in but for a late injury suffered by James Botham, the 33-year-old has gained 58 metres from 22 carries, scoring a try against the Scarlets, as he slotted back into a supporting ball carrier role perfectly from blindside flanker, operating more in the wider channels.
Then defensively he made 37 tackles, the sixth-most in the competition, as well as winning two turnovers, the first of which in the second half against the Dragons when we were down to 13-men was one of the best pieces of individual skill I’ve seen for many years as he tracked 50 metres across the field from a scrum to jackal successfully in the opposite corner.
Perhaps his time on the international scene is now in the past, especially if Wayne Pivac plans to use this summer to blood players with an eye on the 2023 World Cup, but if he chooses to go with the best players currently available, or wants some experience and leadership alongside some newer talent, then he could do a lot worse than Josh Turnbull.
Discipline still lacking
The major downside over the last two weeks from a Cardiff point-of-view has been that a lack of discipline is still a problem, and you could argue is getting worse as we receive three yellow cards and a red card in three weeks.
All-in-all we’ve conceded 43 penalties, with the ideal number being under 30 to average less than 10 a game. With them coming in clusters of four or five at a time it means we spend long periods pinned in our own territory and serving up multiple points scoring opportunities to the opposition.
As mentioned earlier the attack has scored 29 points in the first half over the last two games, before losing the second halves by a combined 35-17 scoreline. It could be argued that perhaps where we are running out of steam in attack is contributing to some lazy penalties being given away too. Something to ponder for Robin Sowden-Taylor’s Strength and Conditioning department.