Learned lessons provide backdrop for Leinster win

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When Jarrod Evans nailed that match winning kick against Leinster at the Arms Park on Saturday it was a great moment for the players, staff, supporters and everyone linked with Cardiff.

After the last three months of the South Africa debacle, scratch teams, covid cancellations and games behind closed doors, to secure a first win in 11 years over the dominant side in the United Rugby Championship, and do so in that fashion, will be a moment to remember for many in attendance, especially with the North Terrace tenor adding to the drama!

In the hours and days following the win there was a tendency in some areas to go overboard with the hyperbole. Suddenly all of Welsh rugby’s ills were cured, no negativity or constructive criticism was allowed, and all Welsh teams should be able to compete at the top end of the league.

Unfortunately the reality is that this isn’t quite the case. There is an element of the gloss taken off Saturday’s win in that both teams were missing numerous star players with the Six Nations just a week away, while there is still a David v Goliath feeling about beating Leinster who could still field a starting XV with an average of 88 first team games for the province.

Having said that though there is still a huge amount of positivity that we can take out of this from a Cardiff point-of-view, and I think two main points can be made that are drawn from the three Heineken Champions Cup games we have played over the last two months.

The first is having the confidence to play the high-tempo attacking style that Dai Young, Matt Sherratt and Richie Rees have been trying to implement since particularly the beginning of this season. To my eyes it worked superbly against Bath and Harlequins in pre-season, and against Connacht in round one, but faith was shaken somewhat in that run of Ospreys, Bulls, Sharks and Dragons games.

They are opposition sides who largely see their strength as a powerful pack, especially when it comes to facing Cardiff, but watching the mix-and-match Blue and Blacks take Toulouse and Harlequins to task in the first 40s just before Christmas will no doubt have been an eye opener to those viewing the games in their quarantine hotels.

Despite having semi-professionals and academy members in the packs up against some world class forwards we were able to move the ball quickly and accurately to continually put pressure on the opposition defence until a penalty was conceded or a try was scored, almost overwhelming them with speed.

So when we were met with an organised and physical Leinster defence on Saturday night we were able to take the power of Rhys Ruddock, Max Deegan and Michael Ala’alatoa out of the equation by maintaining possession and playing at a tempo that allowed us to continually generate quick ball, and hold our own in the territory stakes.

Of course a huge part of that though was the tactical kicking, and this is the second point learned from particularly the second Harlequins encounter, not panicking!

In the first 15 minutes or so on Saturday there were a handful of wayward kicks from across the team which simply resulted in turning over possession cheaply in the face of the Leinster blitz. However, after a word from Richie Rees to Jarrod Evans at a stoppage of play the kicking changed dramatically to finding the space behind either the centre of the away side’s defence or the open side winger.

Lloyd Williams’ box kicking also went up a notch as he put some cracking chase-able kicks up for Cardiff to chase, along with Ben Thomas and Hallam Amos supporting Jarrod, and it’s no surprise that both of our tries came as a result of excellent kicking.

That alteration, along with the Blue and Blacks not letting a period of Leinster dominance and a James Botham yellow card in the first 20 minutes of the second half phase us, made sure that we were still in the game at the business end of proceedings and gave Evans that chance to kick us to victory, which I have to add an apology to him for because I definitely wasn’t a believer as he stepped up!

The road to earning results like that regularly is still a long one, and tough tests of our ability to impose our style of play on games await with the re-arranged games against the Lions and Stormers, plus trips to Ulster and Munster, before the end of the season.

It’s all steps on the road to qualifying regularly for the URC play-offs and pushing for the Heineken Champions Cup knockouts though, and despite a tumultuous few weeks for Cardiff, the players and coaches have managed to continue down that.

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