The disappointment around Cardiff’s derby day defeat at the hands of Ospreys on Saturday night was a good indicator of changing attitudes at the club in recent years.
Rewind into the not too distant past and you’d have found a time where players, coaches and supporters would have come away from the Swansea.Com Stadium relatively happy with a losing bonus point in the back pocket and praising the way we stuck in the game despite the handling errors and penalties conceded.
Now though, after a good few months of positivity under Dai Young where the squad looks ready to step up to the next level in the United Rugby Championship and compete for play-offs, there was disappointment about the number of handling errors and penalties conceded that prevented us from winning in Swansea.
That is a step in the right direction but there’s still plenty of distance to travel on the road to being competitive, and Saturday was a perfect example of the naivety we have to shake off, and the street smartness we need to adopt.
The Ospreys, by Toby Booth’s own admission after the game, were not in top gear and didn’t play a huge amount of rugby, but in actual fact they didn’t need to. They knew a strong defensive game would lead to Cardiff errors and then they could get an upper hand at the set piece which would lead to points. If that didn’t work then they just needed to stay tight in possession and wait for the Blue and Blacks to infringe.
It was superbly carried out and a comfortable four points for them in the end despite the scoreline not showing much between the teams, but it could have been so different had the away side wised up to what was unfolding earlier.
From the mid-point of the first half onwards it was clear that the new attacking system we are trying to implement was not working. This was partially due to the handling errors Cardiff were making, partially because the knock-on effect was a lack of confidence, and partially because we looked a touch slow around the field, perhaps due to the Ospreys being more physical.
Either way, we hadn’t actually created anything in attack and our only points came due to Josh Adams has the super-human ability to always be in the right place at the right time to score a try and jumped on a Rhys Priestland penalty that hit the post and came back into play. I’d actually suggest that it was not even a penalty in the first place as the home side counter-rucked us successfully but were harshly pinged.
What, in my eyes, should have happened is that we switch to a kick heavy game that aims to move the Ospreys pack around a bit, keep the opposition pinged back in their half as much as possible, and crucially, tests the home back three in the air.
When we did kick tactically or for territory throughout the game we had success in terms of the hosts not taking the ball cleanly and Blue and Black chasers claiming possession back further up the field, but even if the kicks were taken by their back three, if they kick back then we have players who thrive in unstructured attacking situations.
Josh Adams and Owen Lane were better in the air than their opposite numbers Mat Protheroe and Luke Morgan, while full-back Max Nagy was making his first league start and first professional outing at 15 so was prime for testing, and although there were was occasions of loose balls going into Ospreys hands or kick chasers flapping the ball back rather than trying to catch it, on the whole it was an approach that worked well for Cardiff, we simply did not use it enough.
Instead we kept ourselves stuck in the vicious circle of trying to play from anywhere ahead of our own 10 metre line, regularly knocking the ball on, conceding a penalty at the scrum and Gareth Anscombe either kicking his side into our half or putting three points on the board.
Yes, we want to be a team that plays attractive and exciting fast-paced attacking rugby, but above all we want to be a team that wins. The Ospreys knew how to do that on Saturday, Cardiff didn’t. We have to learn quickly as autumn quickly turns into winter.