Last week, after we had fallen to defeat against the Ospreys in Swansea, I fancied that we looked a bit naive as we continued to try and keep the ball in hand despite the number of handling errors and our weakness at the subsequent scrums.
Fast forward a week though and I wouldn’t have minded some of that reckless abandon as we went down without as much as a whimper in the second half of Saturday’s defeat at the hands of the Bulls, blowing a 16-3 half-time lead to lose the second half 3-26.
It’s a question of where the line is between bravery and stupidity, but certainly at the Arms Park last weekend we lacked the former after the break. As the South African side upped their intensity and their physicality, we retreated firmly into our shells and failed to fire any shots. Only once did we enter their 22 with any great ambition, and it was blown quickly by a wrong decision.
As the Bulls started to get on top in the game it was possible to see our confidence shrink in real-time. Gone were the variations in our carrying game, bringing options off 9 including wingers stepping into first receiver. Gone was the offloading game in the wider channels that took us from half-breaks to line breaks.
Instead we were formulaic and predictable, we didn’t run on to the ball and we played too deep. I don’t think there’s a fitness issue with the squad, we just allowed ourselves to be slowed down as we played right into the physical hands of the Bulls. Cardiff effectively played in front of the opposition for 40 minutes and faded into the night.
Now we know that we are nowhere near the biggest team in the league, and the South Africans on Saturday night were, to use a technical term, absolutely massive. There’s no substitute for size or physicality in the modern game but if we’re going to give this United Rugby Championship season a proper go then we have to back our strengths.
There is no better time to play fast-paced and expansive rugby than a dry, mild October night at the Arms Park, and even if you are losing the gainline then there’s still options to inject that pace. Keeping up the variations off 9, using attacking kicks to hold the opposition blitz, play flat to the line from 10 and run options off there, show off the handling skills with pop passes and offloads.
To do that while you’re getting a beating up front requires that bravery we’re going to need this season to play in the face of adversity, and it will be needed in abundance this Saturday night as the Sharks bring their own South African physicality as we try to recover from two losses in a row.
On top of that there’s a fair suggestion that Cardiff could also look to get an edge outside of the tactical parts of the game. This won’t be a popular suggestion for rugby purists or those who love rugby values, but in the modern professional game the one-percenters are big and at the moment it feels like we are being left behind somewhat.
This edge can come from niggling the opposition, perhaps winding them up a little, and also getting in the ear of the referee a little more, as the Bulls were certainly dominating exchanges with the official on Saturday night and maybe able to get a little boost from that.
Our overriding problem with the Blue and Blacks is that, unlike us in the terraces who are very boo happy and keen to let our feelings towards the refereeing be known, the players are a group of nice lads, and perhaps they need to develop a harder edge in order to try and claw something else back from the sides that will turn up with much bigger packs than ours.
If we become these brave bastards on the pitch then we give ourselves that edge against the physicality of the opposition, and that can be born from having the confidence in ourselves to go out and play. We’re a much better rugby team than we’ve shown the last two weeks, let’s get back to the high levels of performance we saw against Connacht this Saturday.