It’s only the fourth week of the 2022/23 season, and already this Cardiff Rugby season has been the rollercoaster to end all rollercoasters. Sometimes you want to get off, but it keeps dragging you back in.
The last twist came on Saturday evening at Parc y Scarlets where, above all else and after everything that had gone on during the previous eight days or so, the Blue and Blacks put in a display worthy of the jersey and did themselves, the coaches and the supporters proud.
As I tweeted ahead of the game, I made the shortest trip of the season for me with zero hope or expectation for the result, all I wanted was to see the players play with 110% commitment for 80 minutes, and I got that with no exceptions. Once that box is ticked, anything else is a bonus in my book, especially with where the budget and the squad is currently.
If we’re totally honest, there wasn’t much as a bonus on the evening, but there didn’t need to be. Avoiding the temptation to make this an exasperated “what has happened to the Scarlets?!” blog, it was clear they were little or no threat. A ponderous and stuttering attack in particular a real head scratcher after recent years of fast-paced and free-flowing rugby in the wild west.
Cardiff’s attack was solid enough, if a little lateral in the second half, the tactical kicking and exiting from our own 22 was accurate and alleviated pressure as well as staying competitive in the territory battle, and the scrum went well bar one set piece in the 70th minute where Dmitri Arhip’s tank was noticeably empty.
A major work-on will be the lineout, which almost entirely capitulated with a 62% success rate, including some slightly confusing calling to the back despite the success of the Scarlets pressure in this area, but fortunately it did not come back to haunt us.
That was entirely down to the work rate from the kick chase and in defence where the Blue and Blacks made an incredible 215 tackles at a 90% tackle success rate, led by Thomas Young with 26. The goal line defensive sets from the hour mark onwards, and after Kirby Myhill was shown a yellow card on 65 minutes, were a particular highlight as the game threatened to shift in the home side’s favour.
In the end that commitment led to a moment of “good” fortune as a Scarlets penalty and man advantage was overturned when Vaea Fifita was shown a red card for an illegal clear out on Shane Lewis-Hughes. Disappointment for the flanker, who now presumably faces a spell out in the concussion protocol after a fine showing, but a momentum shifter that ultimately secured our victory.
Going forward there will need to be improvements on a technical level, there’s no question about that. Dragons will pose considerably more questions to our defence, while our attack may need to deal with a shift in approach that comes with Rhys Priestland replacing Jarrod Evans at fly-half, should the latter’s hamstring injury rule him out of action.
However, if that base of 110% effort for 80 minutes is retained then there is at the very least something to show for each game. Something that gives supporters something to be proud of, and something that cements that relationship between supporters and players, to get everyone at the club pulling in the same direction.