A win for character, as much as skill

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Cardiff’s bonus point win over Connacht on Friday night was a festival of running rugby at times, as we got the United Rugby Championship season off to a flying start.

The stats show 12 offloads, 20 defenders beaten and nine line breaks made by the Blue and Blacks, as we dominated possession (59%) and territory (53%) on the way to scoring five tries and 33 points, with the new attacking mindset of playing at high tempo and stretching the opposition causing the Irish side all sorts of problems.

However, that’s not the full tale of the tape from a Cardiff perspective as we played that way despite spending an hour without a recognised fly-half on the pitch after Rhys Priestland and Jarrod Evans departed inside the first 20 minutes with head and chest injuries, respectively.

For that to happen at any point of the season would be a nightmare-ish scenario, but to happen during the first game of the season with supporters back for the first time in 19 months and with a director of rugby and attack coach who have not been in place for long, it’s close to as bad as it gets.

The players needed to display a maturity in terms of not panicking, adjusting the game plan slightly and kicking on with the score at 7-10 to Connacht as Evans was helped from the field. A lot of teams would have collapsed in terms of their individual performances and their structure as a team, particularly in attack with no signal caller present.

Cardiff certainly went through a period of adjustment that wasn’t the most successful, but crucially the 15 on the field did not panic and continued to dominate possession and territory through this time despite struggling to break the opposition down, eventually getting things right just before half-time resulting in Willis Halaholo’s try.

Just like against Bath in pre-season, the half-time message from Young and his coaches worked wonders and the Blue and Blacks looked even more dangerous in the second half, racking up three more tries and cruising to a comfortable victory despite having the further disruption of temporarily playing with a man down after Seb Davies was sent to the sin bin.

So while some of the rugby we played at the Arms Park on Friday was brilliant to watch, with some individuals particularly standing out in front of Wayne Pivac and the Wales coaching team, it was the character shown by the squad to deal with the early set backs and still take five points home that was the stand out for Cardiff.

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