“New year, new me” claim the Instagram influencers. “New year, same old bloody Cardiff v Ospreys encounter” bemoan the Blue and Blacks faithful.
Some things never seem to change and the derby between the two major city sides in South Wales, particularly in the winter months when the weather is changeable at best, is about as predictable as the M4 at Port Talbot becoming a car park on a bank holiday weekend.
The kind way of describing the tactics utilised by the Ospreys is as “one for the purists”. It was brutally direct from open play; rarely kicking or moving the ball outside the 12 channel, instead concentrating on playing off 9 and nullifying the Cardiff breakdown threat, piling on the pressure and earning penalties in order to get the scrum and maul machine working.
Ultimately though it was successful, and that’s all that matters come the final whistle. Toby Booth’s men turned up with a plan, aided by a first half downpour described as “too wet for me” by Noah, and implemented it to take the four points home, leaving the Blue and Blacks to ponder some all too familiar shortcomings against bigger packs.
That’s not to say it was as one-sided as this fixture has been in the past. Cardiff’s maul work was the best it’s been for many years against the Ospreys, disrupting them multiple times and scoring from a drive of our own. In open play we stood up to the physical challenge too, preventing the visitors from scoring via an open play attack.
Unfortunately the lack of a scrummaging hooker bit hard, with the lack of replacement for Matthew Rees once again being shown up. Kris Dacey, Kirby Myhill and Liam Belcher are all good players with some excellent attributes but the converted back rowers don’t offer that stability in the middle of the front row, which is then compounded by third and fourth choice tighthead props packing down against Welsh internationals.
That scrum weakness was the first faller in a house of Cardiff cards that disintegrated slowly throughout the game as soon after the tactical kicking game began turning over possession too cheaply, then the lineout begin to implode. Under pressure from the desertion of the set piece, the defence became increasingly desperate and with that came a raft of penalties being conceded.
Finishing the game with no hookers on the field, two looseheads in the front row and Ellis Jenkins throwing in at the lineout summed up the mess the Blue and Blacks had gotten ourselves in, and was the reason that the kick at goal was attempted with the clock red, rather than going for the win.
Disappointment over the scoreboard aside though it was a brilliantly tense and exciting Welsh derby, showcasing some of the best of Welsh professional club rugby. Nobody watching could be left in any doubt that both Cardiff and Ospreys, with an acceptable financial deal with the WRU and a medium/long term business plan in place, could compete regularly at the top of the URC and European competition.
With some additions to Dai Young’s forward pack and Toby Booth’s back line both squads would have a seriously strong look to them, but yet here we are with neither men in charge being able to offer new contracts to current players, let alone sign any new faces, as supporters of each team joined together at the Arms Park to demonstrate against the Union’s amateur governance and leadership.
Still the players will take to the field again next week despite not knowing if they will have medical cover or employment beyond June, and as the Scarlets arrive at the Arms Park, Cardiff know that after six points from a possible 10 thus far a win on Saturday will represent a hugely successful run of derbies ahead of the Challenge Cup pool stages coming to an end.
Get down to send another message to Steve Phillips that he is not wanted as WRU CEO, and to support the Blue and Blacks!