View from the South Terrace: Newcastle (H)

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I have to say, I’m not a massive fan of Sunday games.

There are elements of that dislike which are personal to me. Driving back west after a Sunday game and then going straight back to work on Monday is a bit arduous, it also messes with my roast dinner, and it’s just generally not as lively around the city centre building up to kick-off.

However, I’ll take Sunday games every week if Cardiff are going to score two tries in the first five minutes and secure the try bonus point by half-time before cruising to a relatively simple victory!

Going into the encounter I expected a somewhat close battle. Newcastle had stuck with 15 of the 23 that beat Leicester the previous week, a strong opposition despite their recent coaching overhaul. It was a noticeably more competitive selection than that we had seen at Kingston Park last month, while the Blue and Blacks were without a number of key names.

On the back of the slow start against the Scarlets, and some disappointing performances across the derbies as a whole, there was a need for Cardiff to take things back to basics to a degree, and they did that in the first quarter of the game.

The rugby was high tempo and direct. There was no over-complicated play calls from starter plays or the set piece. The focus was moving the ball quickly, coming on to it at speed, causing problems for the defence with a desire to out-work the opposition and kicking and exiting well in order to keep that pressure on the English side.

Following that there was a period of having to defend for some longer periods but the work rate stayed high, the tackle complete percentage was much improved, and we continued to be a threat at the breakdown with the added threat of the choke tackle which either slowed Newcastle down or turned them over.

Once Cardiff went back up the other end before the break and scored two more tries, while Elliott Obatoyinbo was red carded, the game was effectively over as a contest and a deserved five points followed.

For Dai Young there would have been satisfaction in the performance and with individuals, although as a former forward perhaps an annoyance that the man-of-the-match award went to Owen Lane on an afternoon where the forwards were imperious. Not that the Lane Train had a bad game by any stretch.

Particularly pleasing will have been the showings from the young players; Efan Daniel, Teddy Williams, Ellis Bevan and Mason Grady were all more than comfortable at this level, with Williams and Grady especially standing out as starters, and subsequently going on to be named in Warren Gatland’s Wales Six Nations squad this week.

With all that said though, there is still an area of concern for Cardiff.

While the lineout was much improved this week, albeit with some safe calling and against a Newcastle side that bizarrely did not put a massive amount of pressure on the home throw, it was the scrum that struggled on Sunday underlining that without particularly Dmitri Arhip, but also Dillon Lewis, there is a weakness there.

The hope will be that it was a perfect storm of a young hooker, a slightly lighter engine room without Lopeti Timani, Keiron Assiratti having not played much rugby this season and then Will Davies-King still learning his trade, but with games away in Brive, away in Leinster and then against some of the bigger packs in the league in the form of Benetton and Ulster upcoming, the scrum could become an achilles heel.

In the end it was another five points and qualification for the Challenge Cup round of 16 confirmed though. A win in Brive next weekend will likely secure home games throughout the knockouts, which would be the cherry on the pie. Although that may have to be done without any wingers as Lane and Harri Millard limped off late on.

I can be available if needed though, Dai…

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