View from the South Terrace: Brive (A)

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How bloody frustrating is it supporting Cardiff, by the way? If the 80 minutes in Brive on Saturday didn’t sum up how superb and ridiculous we can be in one fell swoop then I don’t know what will.

And let’s be clear, there were some examples of the Blue and Blacks playing sublime rugby. Defensively at times we looked impenetrable and the breakdown pressure was too much for the home side to withstand. Our maul work on both sides of the ball caused problems, and when kicks weren’t sliced the aerial tactics reigned terror on the backfield at the Stade Amédée-Domenech.

Rhys Priestland’s 50/22 deserves a paragraph all of it’s own.

In attack, particularly in that 10-15 minute spell early in the second half, Cardiff were simply unplayable. Variation in playing off 9, 10 and 12, ball carriers hitting the line at speed, and danger men getting the ball in space to cause havoc. Playing in the right areas and playing with intent paid off handsomely.

Rhys Carre’s short line off 9, tackle breaking and offload also get it’s own paragraph.

Unfortunately though it was to be an all too short period in the game where the Blue and Blacks were clearly on top as, after doing all the hard work to get back up to speed and then ahead on the scoreboard, what followed almost seemed like an intention to shoot ourselves in the foot as frequently and bizarrely as humanly possible.

Pushing players into contact, dropping late shoulders on the opposition, taking tap penalties on our own five-metre line, and box kicking the ball away in the opposition half. It felt as if a never-ending stream of poor execution and particularly poor decision making was actually a raging torrent, costing ourselves attack opportunities, field position and ultimately inviting Brive to take another healthy lead.

This was all on top of yet another week of falling off tackles and, in particular, a lineout that just cannot function at an acceptable level. The stats in that respect are quite frightening. During the first block of fixtures before the Autumn Internationals our lineout operated at an 80% success rate, but during this block to-date it’s run at a 69% success rate.

It’s an easy win for opposition sides facing the Blue and Blacks as they have clearly started to realise, with Cardiff having 12 lineouts per game before November, now up to 14 lineouts per game as kicks head to touch more in order to target our throw. When also considering the stats don’t show just how scrappy some of the ball we do win is, it’s a pretty shocking state of affairs.

The pressure is firmly on T Rhys Thomas as all elements of the lineout appear under-par at the moment; from the throwing, to the calling, to the timing.

Defeat on Saturday will have a major impact on the Blue and Blacks chances going forward in the Challenge Cup. Rather than facing a lower ranked side from the second tier competition in the round of 16 we will now welcome the heavyweights of Sale Sharks to the Arms Park, with any games in the quarter-final and beyond possibly on the road rather than in familiar surroundings.

It also costs any momentum gained from the win over Newcastle last week, as Cardiff return to United Rugby Championship action this weekend with the daunting task of facing Leinster at the RDS Arena. A game nobody expects anything from, but we could do without embarrassing ourselves in heading into the first three weeks break during the Six Nations.

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