During the one-off Rainbow Cup at the back end of last season there was plenty of positivity for Cardiff Rugby, and a lot of that was down to our attacking performances.
Under John Mulvihill we had consistently struggled to string together cohesive attacking performances, and during the first half of the 2019/20 season in particular the key stat week-in, week-out was our distinct lack of both possession and territory, regularly spending large swathes of games pinned back in our 22 and kicking the ball away.
Aside from pre-called strike plays inside the first three phases we regularly failed to create multi-phase attack and exert pressure on the opposition that way, having to rely on individual moments of brilliance in order to get into attacking positions and stay in touch on the scoreboard.
Fast-forward to Dai Young’s first proper opportunity to get a hold of the squad during the hastily arranged Rainbow Cup though, and after putting out a mixed side in round one against the Ospreys, there was a lot to like about how we played against the Dragons, Scarlets, Munster and Zebre.
Against the Scarlets we enjoyed 53% possession and 51% territory, against Munster it was 53% and 54%, and against Zebre it was 52% and 55%. In the first half of the Dragons game it was 55% and 56%, before Owen Lane’s red card skewed the stats in the second half.
At the 32-minute mark of all four games we were comfortably ahead, with an aggregate score of 54-3 to Cardiff. Particularly against Scarlets and Zebre we hit the ground running, while to stretch into a double-digit lead away at Munster is not to be sniffed at.
Holding on to the ball for multi-phase attacking sets, putting pressure on the opposition, winning penalties and playing in the right areas of the field was achieved by attacking with speed and using minimal but effective variations, putting the ball in the hands of danger men in space to create maximum impact at key moments of the sets.
However, by the time half-time had rolled around we had conceded 20 points without score across the four games, as we seemed to hit a brick wall when it comes to fitness. Essentially we had run ourselves into the ground by taking the speed of the attacking game to the next level, which resulted in some poor discipline and tired defensive sets.
This is where newly appointed High Performance Coordinator Trystan Bevan will be key during pre-season as he oversees the strength and conditioning aspect of the coaching, calling on a vast amount of experience to shape the squad’s fitness to his long-time colleague Dai Young’s needs.
Since graduating the prestigious Michigan State University he has worked in professional rugby union for 20 years, including spells with Young at Cardiff and Wasps, as well as running his own business putting together professional training plans for athletes.
Bevan knows how the director of rugby likes to play, and what condition his players need to be in to make that work, with two months of pre-season to ensure they are able to hit the ground running when the United Rugby Championship potentially gets underway at the end of September.
If we can stretch that ability to attack at speed up to the halfway mark, recover during the break and have another strong 20 minutes early in the second half, then with Rhys Priestland coming on board and evidence that we were already improving our ability to manage games during the Rainbow Cup, we give ourselves a much better chance to be competitive.
Of course it’s not all on Bevan by any means; the attitude of the players, the developing of the attack under Matt Sherratt and Richie Rees, and the rebuilding of our set piece game with Young, Duane Goodfield and T Rhys Thomas will be important components of any success this season.
If they are underpinned by a conditioning level that gives us the opportunity to play an all-court game though, rather than going away to Ireland and battling up front, for example, then we give ourselves a great chance of improving on the results of recent years.