Could bench split be the secret for Cardiff?

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Increasingly in modern rugby union the margins between winning and losing are tighter than ever, just take the first test between a struggling Wales and the world champion South Africa back in July for an example!

For Cardiff fans this might sound like a bit of a kick in the teeth when you consider some of the results at the back end of last season, but leave aside those blowouts when our legs had gone and even some of the wider scorelines were closer than the points suggested; Scarlets pulling away late at the Arms Park for example.

Add that to losses away at Ospreys, and home to Bulls and Harlequins, and they were games that we either lose, or perhaps should have been won, in the final quarter of the 80 minutes but the Blue and Blacks did not quite have the legs to get a result over the line.

It’s well known by now that the Cardiff pack is not the biggest or most physical in the United Rugby Championship or beyond, but that when we’re at our best we can play at a tempo that hurts opposition defences by creating quick ball and overloads that takes away the gain line advantage they may possess and opens up spaces to play into.

However, there are two interlinked downsides to that. Firstly, we don’t always have the required fitness level to go the distance at that high tempo, often fading in the last 10 minutes of the first half and then in the final quarter of the game, and secondly when we do fade the physicality level dips to a point that cannot get close to opposition sides and allows them to take the game away from us.

So how does Dai Young look to negate that? Well, circling back round to the start of this blog, the Blue and Blacks could take a tip from the Springboks who have been super fans of the 6/2 bench split for a few years now.

Adding another back five forward to the replacements means 75% of the pack can have fresh legs for that final quarter of the game, which either allows Cardiff to stand a better chance of maintaining a high tempo through to the final whistle or, perhaps hopefully, means we could have the ability to compete physically for that final 20 minutes and manage a lead.

With the addition of Joe Peard, Lopeti Timani, Thomas Young and Taulupe Faletau to the ranks of the back five forwards, alongside Academy members Rhys Anstey, Mackenzie Martin, Alex Mann and Gwilym Bradley, the depth is there to run a 6/2 with plenty of quality and size, but the success of this tactic would likely be in the backs.

To run with just one outside back on the bench, assuming one of the two backs is a scrum-half, relies on a high level of flexibility and an element of bravery from the coaching staff to potentially put an inexperienced player in a key position of fly-half, centre or full-back.

Cardiff do have players who can cover multiple positions; Ben Thomas can wear 10, 12 and 15, Jacob Beetham can do the same, Matthew Morgan and Rhys Priestland can both cover 10 and 15, Jarrod Evans has played at 12 previously, while Mason Grady, Max Llewellyn, Harri Millard, Owen Lane, Jason Harries and Josh Adams cover centre and wing, with Aled Summerhill doing that and being capable of playing at full-back.

You could even stretch to the fact that Lloyd and Tomos Williams have both appeared on the wing, and Lloyd had a successful hour at fly-half against Connacht last season!

It’s Thomas who would likely be the key man in the 6/2 split as the most accomplished multi-positional man, and with him missing potentially the first seven rounds of the season through a shoulder injury it may not be a tactic seen straight away.

As the campaign wears on though and we get into the depths of winter and injuries begin to strike, it should be a serious consideration for Dai Young, especially with trips to Rodney Parade and the Royal Dublin Showground coming through December and January, as well as the Ospreys arriving at the Arms Park.

Simply turning up week-in, week-out and attempting to match or beat the physicality of the opposition by going toe-to-toe with them up front is not going to cut it for the Blue and Blacks, we have to start looking to capitalise on a point of difference.

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