If I’m perfectly honest, I probably could have written this at any point before kick-off on Saturday evening because, just as has happened for a good few years now, the Dragons simply cannot seem to beat Cardiff.
Just cast a quick eye over recent derby clashes between the two sides and you’ll find the Blue and Blacks dragging out a win despite being in desperately poor form at the back end of last season, winning despite going down to 14-men early in the second half 12 months ago, and also overcoming a red card, albeit just a 20-minute one at the time, during the Rainbow Cup.
Whether it’s the occasion of a big Welsh derby, a knock-on effect from years of poor results, just a general hoodoo about playing Cardiff, or a mix of the three, the Dragons simply cannot break the losing streak, and Saturday evening was no different.
That’s not to say there were no positives for us or we didn’t deserve to win, far from it. We dominated much of the first half when playing downhill and with the wind behind us. Defensively we were organised, physical and committed once again, with a few more turnover opportunities taken at the breakdown this week, while the aerial and kicking game allowed us to win the territory battle.
A big step up came in the incisiveness of the attack, led by Tomos Williams who is looking more confident week-on-week, and allowing the likes of Willis Halaholo and Josh Adams to get their hands on the ball a lot. With the addition of big carries from Rhys Carre and James Botham it was an 80-minutes where Cardiff tries could have come from anywhere.
However, the word of caution comes from the third quarter of the game where, just after half-time, we didn’t learn the lessons of the Dragons mistake during the first period and struggled to clear our lines properly as we played uphill and into the wind.
Soft turnovers conceded particularly at the lineout and maul gave up possession easily and allowed the away side to pin us back in our 22 for close to the whole second half up to the 65th minute. Against a better quality side than our easterly rivals, which next week’s opponents Stormers will almost certainly be, we would have fallen behind on the scoreboard.
Fortunately on this occasion we managed to re-group in time before, or perhaps if, the Dragons ever got their act together, but it’s a warning signal as this Cardiff team continues to build performances up on a weekly basis.
Perhaps the most pleasing aspect of this game, building on the win over Scarlets, was the way senior players and leaders stepped up to lead the Blue and Blacks out of trouble. Josh Turnbull has been his talismanic best, Kris Dacey looking close to his top level, Willis Halaholo working hard on both sides of the ball, and Rhys Priestland trying to manage proceedings from full-back.
That culminates in Jarrod Evans having the confidence as the fly-half to launch an attack from inside our 22 late in the game and start off a wonderful move that finishes with Thomas Young sprinting over from halfway. Two leaders backing themselves to make a difference and making something happen in order to secure the bonus point.
If that leadership group keeps learning and strengthening then it’s only a good thing on and off the pitch in the medium term, but in the short term there will need to be a big step up in performance levels after wins over fairly poor Welsh opposition as the champion Stormers come to town.