Cardiff Rugby giveth, and Cardiff Rugby taketh away. A timely reminder from the boys in Blue and Black that we shouldn’t be getting ahead of ourselves just yet.
It’s been a rollercoaster of a season so far, so approaching the festive period with our guards down was always going to end in tears. The big wins in the opening rounds of Europe, the battling against Dragons and Ospreys, that was the slow descent to the top. A disappointing showing against Scarlets was very much the return to earth.
The overwhelming disappointment leaving the ground on Saturday evening was that it took 30 minutes for Cardiff to really get going. Of course the effort over the last few weeks has taken an understandable toll, but for too many players not to look 110% up for a derby from the get-go is a concern. Legs running out in the final quarter? Fair enough. Looking off the pace until half-hour in? Something’s gone wrong.
Unfortunately that lost time, which included the Lopeti Timani yellow card, saw the Blue and Blacks down 3-19 and despite threatening to battle back the hill was just too steep. You can’t leave yourself with that much ground to make up in a derby, especially on a January evening of change-able weather, and with a number of injuries being picked up along the way.
As the dust settled after the defeat there were other aspects of the game that were noticeable though, and as Cardiff attempt to continue down this road from the desperation of last season to some semblance of competitiveness despite the best attempts of the Welsh Rugby Union, there are areas of our own game we need to look at.
Firstly, specifically in derbies the Blue and Blacks have to consider switching up the tactics as the other Welsh sides seem to know our weaknesses too intimately.
It won’t be a secret to many teams that we aren’t particularly heavy up front and that we can be dominated with a direct and physical game, however our in-country rivals can drill down deeper than that with more bespoke knowledge of individual players and where we can be targeted to maximum effect.
The Scarlets went hard at our fringe defence, sending their big carriers into the guard and bodyguard position with options either side to keep the ball alive through their offload game or ensuring that they had numbers present to negate the Cardiff jackal game which has been so successful. When they moved the ball wide they used the screen pass with Rhys Patchell maintaining his depth to negate our blitz from the 13.
They kicked a lot to prevent the Blue and Blacks gaining a platform from which to play, and in defence they blitzed hard on Jarrod Evans in order to cut right down on his decision making time as a threat both with his playmaking and his stepping.
Secondly, and this is still a too regular occurrence for Cardiff, we have to get better at reacting to the referee.
This isn’t passing any judgement on the performance of the referee, nor is it suggesting that it was due to the referee that we lost, but it is simply the sad fact that the laws of the game are currently so poorly written and not reflective of the sport in it’s present state that interpretations vary wildly from official to official.
On this occasion it was the scrum that caused the Blue and Blacks particular problems as, despite having a noticeable upper hand, were too regularly pinged for losing binds, losing footing or pushing too early. Whether agreed with or, in the case of Dmitri Arhip and his flabbergasted reaction, not, simply continuing to show the referee the same picture is the definition of insanity.
In a similar circumstance to the loss to Edinburgh earlier in the campaign where the breakdown was the talking point, either the leaders on the field or the coaches in the stand have to ensure the team is reacting to the interpretations of the referee and preventing these repeat infringements.
Finally, the lineout is still a shambles.
Looking forward there are a sea of cliches for Cardiff to wade through on the back of this one. “Re-group and go again”, “make sure it’s a one-off”, “gives us a chance to re-focus”, “new competition, new mindset”. Take your pick, but ultimately none of those make up for the disappointment of failing to turn up for the first 30 minutes of a derby.
That simply can’t happen again.