View from the South Terrace: Newcastle (A)

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There are some things in life that seem to noticeably function to a higher level in certain circumstances.

Ian Poulter in matches at Ryder Cups, Christmas pudding when absolutely drowned in brandy sauce, and the railway network when the workers are paid a suitable wage in line with inflation as well as enjoying fair working conditions.

Increasingly though it’s Cardiff Rugby playing in the group stage of European cup competitions that can be added to that list, as the Blue and Blacks seem to play some of our best rugby in the pools over recent years, putting on some absolute clinics in the style of attack we want to see.

With a few notable exceptions (NOBODY MENTION S*LE), there’s been dominant front five showings, measured game management, a strong set piece, and in particular some brilliant free-flowing rugby. The mind immediately flicks to the home game against Pau in 2019, where Tomos Williams, Jarrod Evans and Josh Adams ran riot in a 54-22 victory.

There has also been a 2020 visit to Newcastle, the double header against Lyon in 2018/19, the quad wins over French opposition on the way to Bilbao in 2017/18 and the double over Bristol in 2016/17, not to mention the performances from the mix-and-match 23s against Toulouse and Harlequins last season, even if they wound up in glorious defeat ultimately.

Those have been added to over the last week by first the dismantling of Brive at the Arms Park, and then Saturday’s 10-47 win over the Falcons at Kingston Park, a showing built on the basis of a dominant tight five, strong set piece and a good kicking game, and then furnished by some superb attacking rugby to score at least three try of the season contenders.

The lineout showed some improvement from last week, while the defence was once again vociferous in it’s line speed, scramble and breakdown work, barely letting Newcastle within sight of the try line, and even when it did get there then the indefatigable Rey Lee-Lo would appear with a frankly ludicrous turnover right under the posts.

Josh Adams, Ben Thomas and the returning Owen Lane were on fine form in the back three, and produced a top quality performance as they simultaneously re-enacted the men in tights dance from Robin Hood, while the forwards were unstoppable led by a rampant Rhys Carre who must have Warren Gatland beside himself with joy as he proves physically destructive in all facets of his game.

Finally, winning man-of-the-match was Ellis Jenkins, a majestic return to action for the flanker ahead of becoming a father for the first time in the coming days or weeks.

It’s been an undoubtedly frustrating period professionally for the 29-year-old with suggestions of persistent knee troubles after the major injury that kept him sidelined for over two years, while there is also talk of some strained relations with Dai Young. Add in the form of Thomas Young and James Botham, and game time has been difficult to come by.

However it was classic Jenkins in the first half on Saturday as he won a key jackal turnover and helped create a try from nothing with a carry and offload that released Taulupe Faletau, who in turn put Adams over. With the aforementioned Young and Botham, plus Josh Navidi and Gwilym Bradley to come back from injury, it’s not a bad openside corps!

Ultimately these results have to be taken with a pinch of salt in the form of Brive and Newcastle’s team selections, but the performance levels from Cardiff have been excellent on both occasions, and it is that which needs to be replicated as the Blue and Blacks enter the key period of the festive derbies.

Two wins from the next three games will solidify a spot in the top eight of the United Rugby Championship as well as put a strong hold on first place in the Welsh Shield table. That’s the expectation after the last few weeks, now time to back it up when it matters. Ymlaen Caerdydd!

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