Well, summer is definitely over. After weeks and weeks of warm weather and sunny evenings, it seemed we had skipped autumn altogether as Cardiff fans watched on in the face of the cold and the rain on a dark night at the Arms Park as the Blue and Blacks fell to defeat at the hands of the Lions.
There are some games where, no matter how poorly the team might be playing on the whole or in part, you get the impression that the win is coming. Munster in round one for example; the defence was sloppy and some of the ball-in-hand stuff was a bit rusty, but overall there wasn’t a point where it felt like we wouldn’t come away with the four points.
On Friday though the feeling of trepidation started as try scoring chance after try scoring chance was blown in the opening 20 minutes, and then once the Lions were awarded a penalty try and Taulupe Faletau sent to the sin bin on the stroke of half-time it seemed inevitable that Dai Young’s men would suffer a first home loss of the season.
Four times in that first quarter of the game Cardiff set foot in the Lions 22 but failed to come away with any points, as both penalties came from South African side infringements closer to halfway. To compound that we conceded three soft penalties in their 22; at the scrum, lineout and aerially, to let them easily off the hook.
That conceding of soft penalties was a theme throughout as, while Dai Young may complain about harsh penalties this week and there was certainly some tough refereeing around the breakdown, the Blue and Blacks continually made rods for our own backs with sloppy play and a real lack of switched on thinking.
Immediately following James Botham’s 37th minute try, for example, the ball was allowed to bounce as we attempted to receive the kick-off and then a penalty conceded at the breakdown which was entirely unnecessary. Good luck trying to stop a South African side pushing a maul over from close range after they have kicked to the corner!
This was a theme which continued into the second half with the sloppy play seeing us largely go away from what worked in terms of winning the territory battle in the first half. Of course playing into the wind and towards the river hampered that style of play, but it was not totally prohibitive to kicking well and keeping the Lions pinned back.
Even when we did nudge the ball into the corner some poor chasing and tackling allowed the opposition to escape easily, and once the territory battle was lost the penalties began to mount up. As the penalties mounted up the gap on the scoreboard increased, and as the game began to get away from Cardiff the desperation in our play became obvious.
Trying to force attacks from our own territory resulted in multiple handling errors and the vicious circle started once again.
All-in-all it belied a Blue and Blacks side that seems to be struggling in all areas at the moment. Game plans are not being adhered too, messages don’t seem to be getting on to the pitch, on-field leadership is not obvious, confidence is low, clear thinking is not evidently taking place and, ultimately, the strength of backbones are in question.
It is rare for everything to go one team’s way for a full 80 minutes, and it’s often how a team reacts to the periods where momentum is not in their favour that wins a game, rather than how successful they are with the momentum.
Squandering try scoring chances in the first quarter of the game should not necessarily have been a concern for Cardiff. Keep doing what we were doing and the scores would have come. It would be far more concerning if there were no try scoring opportunities being created at all.
In the end though the Blue and Blacks saw heads go down and then get lost altogether as we limped to a sorry performance and a sorry scoreline. Back-to-back derbies roll around over the next two weeks, and while form does go out of the window to some extent, the hangover from this on a mentality level will be difficult to overcome.
Eggspecially after the week that has been so far…